Online assessment could lead to quicker treatment for young mental health sufferers

Young people suffering from psychiatric conditions such as depression, anxiety or autism could be assessed online to get them help faster treatment than the current system allows.

The University of Aberdeen is running a European trial in the Scottish Highlands and Finland to see if the new approach will lead to healthier and happier young people.

Problems such as insufficient numbers of psychiatrists, long waiting times, limited capacity among primary care services and a heavy travel burden for both patients and outpatient specialists persist within the UK’s psychiatric care services.

The current process of referring a child to the appropriate psychiatric service can be drawn out, stressful and potentially damaging for children if their condition becomes intractable. GPs state that they do not have the time nor the training to accurately diagnose children and young people.

The new trial will have children, their teachers (if he or she is 11+ years old) and their parents take secure, structured computer psychiatric interviews designed to build up a detailed history of the patient and give an accurate diagnosis. The online information will then be assessed by a psychiatrist and a recommendation will be made about the right service for the child or young person.

The Development and Wellbeing Assessment (DAWBA) could potentially result in children or young people being referred to the most appropriate services more quickly and with less stress.

A test of the system show DAWBA’s diagnosis success rate to be around 80-90%.

The project is a collaboration with partners in Finland. Sweden and Norway and is funded by the European Northern Periphery and Arctic Programme.

The trial, which will take place in the NHS Highland region will see 50% of patients receiving the DAWBA system and 50% receiving the current treatment.

Professor Philip Wilson, head of the University of Aberdeen’s Centre for Rural Health said: “This is an important trial to test a new service which could ultimately lead to a slicker, more thorough and effective system for psychiatric referral for children and young people.

“The current system is inefficient at best and often results in families being sent from pillar to post due to inaccurate or non-comprehensive diagnosis. It’s bad for the children and young people, for the parents and teachers, and the GP who has to manage a situation which is often drawn out and frustrating for all involved.

“It is our hope that the new system will contribute to improved and more equal access to timely outpatient psychiatry services, specialist evaluation and treatment according to best practice, improved capacity in primary care and more rational use of specialist services.”

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