Health Services; patient consent (Photo)

Someone enters the Student Health Services office, Oct. 24, 2018.

After testing a triage system for mental health appointments last semester, Western in January shifted all first-contact appointments to same-day counselling in the hopes to reduce late cancellations.

Appointments are available to book every week day and offer a brief triage, followed by therapy. Students then leave with a plan to move forward whether that be a referral, followup, or coping methods.

Same-day appointments begin at 11 a.m., with the early-morning slots remaining available for some limited advance booking triage appointments and follow-ups from previous patients.

The triage system did reduce wait times because the short triage appointements helped students be directed to the type of help that best fit thier needs. 

Though the changes last semester reduced waiting times from a month to seven to 12 days, there were still many issues that needed to be addressed in the system. 

At its peak last semester, the waiting time for an appointment was three weeks. In these periods, Western still saw many students either not showing up or cancelling their appointments at the last minute.

The no-show rates were straining the system, leaving Western to re-evaluate. That fell to Jennie Massey, the associate vice-president of student experience, and her team.

They found that other schools in Ontario were seeing success with the same-day system.

Many schools had converted to a fully walk-in system, finding it maximized their throughput and reduced no-shows too.

Massey said Western has seen similar results thus far.

“We have heard students that are really happy that they can call and get an appointment on the same day,” Massey said.

On average, if a student calls before noon, Massey said they will be able to book a same-day appointment.

It has also decreased the rate of no-shows. Last semester, there was an average of 96 no shows per month, with a peak of 137 in October; with the same-day appointments, there have only be three no shows and only 50 coming in for follow-up appointments.

“We all want mental health resources to continuously improve, [but] I also think we have to celebrate where there are successes,” Massey said.

Call operators are also able to refer students to resources in London or book an appointment with a doctor in case the same day counselling is fully-booked.

These same day appointments do not replace crisis counselling, which is also available.

The new system had a rough rollout in January, after students were overwhelmed by a plane crash in Iran that killed four graduate students.

Counsellors were diverted from SHS to help with grief counselling and appointments were in high demand.

Since then, according to Massey, the trends have normalized.

The same-day model is still in the pilot stage. And in the near future, mental health services will gather in a renovated Thames Hall being purpose-built for service consolidation — which could bring even more change to Western's evolving mental health structures.

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