Alberta billing changes expand access to virtual mental health care
Legislation Mental Health
Alberta is making it easier for people to receive mental health treatment virtually.
It announced changes to allow psychiatrists to bill for virtual indirect care as part of a psychiatric consultation. Currently, only time spent with a patient is counted toward virtual care billing code time requirements. Time taken with same-day patient management activities, such as reviewing patient history, ordering tests and completing the medical record, will now be eligible for payment.
“The pandemic has had a significant impact on Albertans’ mental health. Psychiatrists have a very important role in providing assistance to the mental health needs of Albertans. By continuing to expand virtual care, we are improving Albertans’ access to supports and providing them with more treatment options,” said Jason Copping, the province’s minister of health.
Another change will allow psychiatrists to bill for time when a child’s treatment is discussed with their guardian. Currently, psychiatrists can only bill when talking with a patient directly.
“The AMA and the government are negotiating a new interest-based agreement. In establishing our working relationship, we have agreed to address some priorities requiring action now to support physician practices and encourage uptake of virtual care. Today, through continued collaboration in the interests of patients, we fill another gap in mental health care delivery,” said Dr. Michelle Warren, president, Alberta Medical Association
These changes will be effective retroactively. Eligible services performed on or after Feb. 1, 2022, will be assessed on the basis of enhanced billing codes for virtual psychiatric care.
The changes build on virtual care expansions the government and the Alberta Medical Association (AMA) announced in December 2021 to encourage more physicians to provide care virtually and make virtual health care more readily available to Albertans.
Psychiatrists are currently compensated by the government for providing virtual patient visits, consultations and group therapy.
- About 600 psychiatrists bill the Alberta government annually for providing services.
- Alberta’s government will pay between $700,000 and $1.5 million annually to enhance billing codes for virtual psychiatric care.
- Since the introduction of virtual care in 2020, about 42 per cent of physician visits, consultations and mental health services have been provided virtually.
- Virtual care is a relatively new model of care and continues to evolve. Similar to other Canadian provinces, Alberta’s government continues to monitor its effectiveness on patient care.