Virtual therapy has been available to patients in Barrie for more than five years – just not in their homes.
The Ontario Telemedicine Network provides the service at three offices in the city where patients can see a counsellor outside of the region via a secure video system.
But now virtual house calls are a reality from a Toronto-based company called TranQool.
TranQool is an online counseling platform that offers one-on-one, 45-minute video therapy sessions right from your home with licensed therapists that can be scheduled outside business hours.
“We connect people with psychologists and clinical social workers and we allow them to have their sessions from anywhere using a secure video call. This is not Skype. It’s encrypted,” said co-founder and CEO Chakameh Shafi.
It was an invention launched in 2016 out of experience, according to Shafi, a young mechanical engineer who suffered from anxiety.
“I was a high achiever, type A personality where everyone would say ‘You’ve got everything in life. There’s no way you have anxiety,’” said Shafi.
She tried three different therapists but her benefit package ran out by the time she found the right one.
Through cognitive behaviour therapy, she learned valuable coping skills and encouraged others to seek help.
“People kept giving me the exact same answers. I can’t afford it and people who could afford it were like ‘I don’t have the time to go find a therapist and leave work early to see them.’ And the stigma was completely predominant for everyone. So I thought, what if they could do it on video,” she said.
Since it launched just over a year ago, over 3,000 Ontarians have had access to the platform, including patients in Barrie.
“I think it’s fantastic,” said Jessica Tulk, Telemedicine Coordinator at the Canadian Mental Health Association in Simcoe County.
“More people need access to health care, whether it’s going to be privately funded or publicly funded. This day and age you don’t often find publicly funded therapy that’s easily accessible. Unfortunately the wait lists in the province are quite long. But if you have benefits or are able to pay for this I think its fantastic.”
In any given year, 1 in 5 Canadians copes with a mental health problem.
Telemedicine Ontario serves about 900 patients a year in Barrie which includes everything from psychological consults to follow-ups to organ transplants.
OHIP covers the Telemedicine sessions.
TranQool says its service is less expensive than face-to-face therapy, convenient and takes about five minutes to sign up.
“You’re able to have a session 24 hours later. There’s no wait list as a lot of people are experiencing in our current system. For hospitals its up to six months before you can see a social worker. Even in private practice, it would be a wait of couple of weeks,” Shafi explains.
TranQool rates are $80 per session, compared to, typically, more than $120 for an in-person session.
The site clearly states it is not a crisis platform and outlines the type of issues it deals with.
Therapists undergo an intense screening process with extensive background checks.
Telemedicine Coordinator Tulk says this technology is the way of the future.
“There’s lots of reason why people can’t make it out of their homes to attend an appointment, starting with mental health. So if you suffer from anxiety, a lot of people can’t take the step out of their house. This way you can bring the help into their house and people are still able to benefit from that and get better and live a healthier life.”
To learn more visit TranQool or for more information about OTN go to OTN.ca