Mental health shows way for healthcare technology

Some of the best healthcare innovations address real issues with easy-to-use, cost-effective technology that delivers proven benefits to patients and clinicians.

Such innovations do exist, with simple solutions keeping people better for longer, reducing the amount of time they need to see the doctor, and ultimately improving the quality of care.

Never more so than in the field of youth mental health, where doctors and patients are embracing the use of mHealth technology as part of the therapeutic relationship.

This week saw the launch of a series of apps to help improve young people’s chances of recovery of dealing with mental ill health. Dreamt up by clinicians at Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Foundation Trust, and developed in collaboration with mobile experts Appadoodle and end users, one of the apps is already being used as part of psychosis treatment.

Another app around attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is attracting significant interest from others in the field. A future app will look to support building the emotional resilience of young people to give them the tools they need to cope with the increasing pressures of home, school and everyday life.

All are ‘gamified’ to encourage greater engagement, and are designed to work alongside clinical treatment. All use technology relevant to the end user.

With 50% of mental health issues beginning before the age of 14, and the money going into acute services, prevention and early intervention is essential. And technology is central to supporting this.

This is certainly one area where people are turning online to find out more about their symptoms; there are over 50m monthly visits to information about mental health on NHS Choices. As the NHS Confederation discussion paper on e-mental health noted, there is growing appetite for people to use technology to manage their own care and look to others for support.

Australia even has a national strategy for e-mental health after results showed that online therapy can be just as effective as face-to-face services for people with mild to moderate anxiety and depression. Online therapy is accessible, home-based, anonymous, and is especially effective for rural and remote areas.

But as Tom Meek noted in his recent review of mental health apps, the burden of evidence for these innovations is an issue. JMIR Mental Health shows there is increasing evidence for the benefits of online mental health.

Accreditation is also a factor in the largely unregulated world of the interweb. Moves are underway to make approval and accreditation simpler, and MindTech are doing some excellent work in this area. But how long might this take? And what will happen in the meantime?

As with any good technology, the decisive factor is the user. If it works for them, then it works – kitemark or otherwise.

And as doctors themselves report, hearing from peers has a huge influence on the technology that people adopt. NICE accreditation is important, but what your fellow GP says carries as much – if not more – weight.

The same is true for young people, many of whom embrace technology as part of their everyday lives. They listen to friends and peers on what might help them face the challenges they share openly with others. They will choose technology that works for them, and have little time waiting on third party approvals.

And as the audience of clinicians, academics and service users at the app launch realised as they listened to a series of young people share openly and passionately about their experiences of mental ill health, they are not there to have decisions made for them. Least of all when it comes to technology.

So it is encouraging to see that clinicians and mobile development experts have come together and built technology that is aimed at the end user. Someday all healthcare technology will look like this – start with the person and work backwards. The benefits will be there for all to see.

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