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Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on remote mental healthcare and prescribing in psychiatry: an electronic health record study

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Original languageEnglish
Article numbere046365
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number3
Accepted/In press22 Feb 2021
Published30 Mar 2021


King's Authors


Objectives The recent COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted mental healthcare delivery, with many services shifting from in-person to remote patient contact. We investigated the impact of the pandemic on the use of remote consultation and on the prescribing of psychiatric medications. Design and setting The Clinical Record Interactive Search tool was used to examine deidentified electronic health records of people receiving mental healthcare from the South London and Maudsley (SLaM) NHS Foundation Trust. Data from the period before and after the onset of the pandemic were analysed using linear regression, and visualised using locally estimated scatterplot smoothing. Participants All patients receiving care from SLaM between 7 January 2019 and 20 September 2020 (around 37 500 patients per week). Outcome measures (i) The number of clinical contacts (in-person, remote or non-attended) with mental healthcare professionals per week. (ii) Prescribing of antipsychotic and mood stabiliser medications per week. Results Following the onset of the pandemic, the frequency of in-person contacts was significantly reduced compared with that in the previous year (β coefficient: -5829.6 contacts, 95% CI -6919.5 to -4739.6, p<0.001), while the frequency of remote contacts significantly increased (β coefficient: 3338.5 contacts, 95% CI 3074.4 to 3602.7, p<0.001). Rates of remote consultation were lower in older adults than in working age adults, children and adolescents. Despite this change in the type of patient contact, antipsychotic and mood stabiliser prescribing remained at similar levels. Conclusions The COVID-19 pandemic has been associated with a marked increase in remote consultation, particularly among younger patients. However, there was no evidence that this has led to changes in psychiatric prescribing. Nevertheless, further work is needed to ensure that older patients are able to access mental healthcare remotely.

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