Canadian police agencies use innovative app to assess mental health calls

British Columbia’s police chiefs have successfully negotiated with the provincial government for the financial support to develop an application that can detect, document and assess what kind of mental health resources would best serve people at risk.

This application is geared to help officers who respond to an intervention avoid conflict and determine what type of assistance is best for a person in crisis. B.C. police estimate that between 30 and 50% of calls for police service may involve mental health problems. Until now, the police often asked the same questions as the hospital. By doing so, before the scene is left, officers are already sharing information with the hospital and health professionals.

In an urgent, violent or high-risk situation, little information is sent to Surrey Memorial Hospital. When it is a non-life-threatening call, police officers complete a checklist (irritability, delusions, hallucinations, etc.) and the application generates a report that goes to a hospital physician, who may recommend intervention for that person under the Mental Health Act or suggest alternative care.

When an individual has been previously assessed with the HealthIM application, there is a baseline of information available to officers, including specific advice to de-escalate the intervention and avoid any triggers. Information can help de-escalate a situation earlier and more safely, resulting in better care for the affected person.

As Penny Daflos of CTV News Vancouver explains in a report, the HealthIM app, promoted as a better connection between police and the healthcare system, has been the fruit of a long, comprehensive plan to address one of the most problematic public safety challenges.

According to the Superintendent of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Todd Preston, and the president of the BC Association of Chiefs of Police, this app can help determine whether police service users actually need any medical assistance. This can prevent officers from spending busy hours waiting to hand patients over to health professionals, a procedure that can also stigmatise these people.

The Delta Police Department is currently the only agency already using the new system, which was first established among Ontario’s municipal police forces, and has been gradually implemented in all Prairie provinces.

Since implementing the app in 2019, time spent on paperwork has been reduced, reporting has been standardised, information sharing with healthcare workers has been improved and assessments were reduced by 331 people during 2021 alone.


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