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Goderich Signal Star | Digital, therapist-assisted treatment

Originally published in the Goderich Signal Star on January 24, 2018 by Kathleen Smith


Nearly one in two Canadians will experience a diagnosable mental illness by the time they are 40. Of those who will struggle with a mental health condition – including depression, anxiety and panic – in their lifetime, most do not have access to treatment.

There are several barriers that keep someone struggling with a mental health illness from receiving the appropriate treatment and care. This includes barriers of wait lists, affordability, stigma and geographic limitations such as rural communities.

According to statistics, in the last year, 7.5 million Canadians struggled with a mental health or addiction problem. Many of those people do not have access to appropriate diagnosis or treatment.

In an effort to provide Canadians with a platform rooted in evidence-based Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), a web and mobile app BEACON, is available for those who struggle with mental health illnesses.

Founded by Dr. Peter Farvolden and Sam Duboc, and developed by Canadian clinicians, BEACON and the e-therapist assisted CBT available, helps change negative and anxious thoughts and behaviours, so a person can function better in their life.

After experiencing the impact of mental illness in their own home and lives, Sam Duboc (Air Miles, EdgeStone Capital, Pathways to Education Canada) and his wife Claire Duboc (Trustee, SickKids Hospital), decided it was time for a change.

“I found it hard to get access, even in downtown Toronto. I found it expensive, super inconvenient and the quality was all over the place,” explains Duboc.

“Out of that frustration, came the thought ‘there’s got to be a better way’. It’s [treatment] expensive, it’s hard to get, and rural Canadians don’t have a choice.”

Partnering with Dr. Peter Farvolden (researcher, clinician, administrator with Hamilton Health Sciences Centre, University Health Network (UHN) and Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH)), Duboc and Dr. Farvolden developed a digital solution to help Canadians improve their mental wellbeing.

BEACON was launched in October 2017 as a digitally delivered, therapist-assisted Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (TAiCBT) platform. Currently, it is the only Canadian-made platform that integrates differential diagnosis by a clinical psychologist.

“We decided to built a digital solution. It’s an app on the phone, but it’s a lot more than that. It’s a fully integrated, digital, psychological product that starts with rigorous assessments, diagnosis and full treatment with a dedicated e-therapist,” Duboc says.

“All of that, for about 20 percent [less than other means], or $800 all in.”

Health Quality Ontario recently approved CBT for major depression, and BEACON digital therapy platform was recently qualified by Ontario Telemedicine Network (OTN) as one of four vendors on a new Vendor of Record (VOR).

This qualification of BEACON supports a strategy by the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care to improve the access, treatment and support to those who struggle with mental health issues.

In order for BEACON to qualify, there was a competitive evaluation process of technology solutions, which included a demonstration of ability to provide timely and immediate access to care. Other requirements included ease-of-use, reduction of stigma as a barrier to proper treatment and improved quality of life for patients.

According to Dr. Farvolden, those who are interested in using the digital platform for treatment go through a registration process online. From there, an online assessment will be conducted, where a time for a phone call with a psychologist will be booked.

During the phone call, results from the assessment will be discussed between patient and psychologist, and the patient will be assigned a diagnosis if relevant or appropriate. From there, a care path will be assigned to the patient based on their assessment, which could be the therapist-assisted, Internet-delivered CBT.

Dr. Farvolden added, “Self-guided, Internet CBT interventions that are delivered without therapist assistance are really not effective. So, the therapist assistance part, interacting with a human who provides support and tailors the therapy, is a critical part,” to the unique aspects of BEACON, coupled with accessibility.

Compared to self-help, meditation styled platforms Duboc says that BEACON provides deep assessment, full diagnosis and treatment.

“The goal is to bring an affordable, accessible and effective treatment to Canadians, because right now, they can’t get it. Our goal is to try to stop that suffering in silence, by making it accessible, affordable and effective,” adds Duboc.

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