How digital technologies can support mental health patients

Tas Hind, IM&T Strategy and Transformation Consultant at Ideal Health, looks at the integration of physical and mental health and the role of digital solutions with potential opportunities and challenges this will present.

In some organisations digital solutions are already playing a key role in supporting mental health patients. For instance, booking appointments, online consultations/therapy to accompany face-to-face work. Other examples include:

  • Use of smartphone apps for well-being; online information, courses, support groups etc.
  • Social platforms for specific conditions
  • Secure platforms for care plan access, reporting
  • Toolboxes for self-support
  • Health hubs and ecosystems for disseminating/collating information
  • Medication control
  • Peer group social media communities

Mental and physical health have been in separate silos but there is now a movement towards a holistic approach with more integration, accentuated by the current Sustainability and Transformation plans (STPs). How do we integrate physical and mental health data so that we make sure that information is best shared with an integrated view to ensure that patients obtain the best treatment?

Much work is now recorded electronically. We need to find a way to achieve optimal integration between hand-written and digital data. How do health and social, hospital and out of hospital care and physical and mental health care come together to share patient information?

Mental health information is recorded in a different way to physical health data, and in different language. Physical health data is written in a more acute way; broken arm, dislocated shoulder etc. and mental health data is written in a more descriptive way; “the patient has anxiety and feels panicky when he goes into a confined environment.”

When a mental health patient goes into A+E how do staff assimilate all the information in the correct way to make the correct decisions? What happens when patients have physical ailments that might influence their mental health and vice versa? It is estimated that 46% of people with a mental health problem have a long-term condition and 30% of people with a long-term condition have a mental health problem (Naylor et al 2012). It is therefore easy to see why this information needs to be integrated when treating patients.

The language used in different health organisations can be different. Language needs to be consistent, clear and easily assimilated to make correct decisions.

We need to look at proactive care. If a patient has a mental health issue he/she may not be good with articulating problems, so how do you best help these types of patients and how can digital data help?

A main focus should be looking at the sharing of information. Data must be consistent and quickly assimilated. The technology is there, there needs to be collaborative working so that the system will be practical and useful.

We have the challenge of data quality and security, particularly in light of the recent cyber-attacks affecting many healthcare organisations. Issues include:

  • We don’t want unauthorised people accessing data
  • The correct people in the care community need to see the relevant data
  • The currency of information is key, how often is it shared/updated (real time or batch) and the potential consequences on acting on non-updated data.

Looking at data management, all data needs to be Spine compliant. Spine is the NHS data protocol that supports the IT infrastructure for health and social care in England, joining together over 23,000 healthcare IT systems in over 20,000 organisations. This data includes patient demographics, name, address etc.

If multiple organisations are accessing data and any of these are not Spine compliant the data may be neither up to date nor accurate. All organisations collaborating with data need to be Spine compliant and to arrange between themselves how best to communicate.

If a busy healthcare professional in A+E has to look at data from several different sources, and in an inconsistent form, it will take longer and is more difficult to analyse. It all comes down to the quality and management of the digital data and how it is presented.

The future is having mental and physical health data together, as one record, in a consistent format and language, and all digital. IT professionals need to engage with stakeholders to find and implement the right systems. Once the data is in the correct formats and integrated then the real benefits of digital can be seen.




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