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Dr. James Woollard is Clinical Fellow to Dr Geraldine Strathdee, National Clinical Director for Mental Health.
If information is power, technology and the internet provide us with an opportunity to empower everyone to manage their health more effectively.
There is an increasing drive to improve the “digital literacy” of people using health and care services. The Tinder Foundation is doing really interesting work on this as part of the “Widening Digital Participation” funded by the NHS.
We will need to take care that we are not creating new vulnerabilities in those who may not wish to use technology, or do not have the resources or the knowledge to use it, mental health services have led the way in incorporating technology into their practices, with paperless and electronic patient record systems used by 80 per cent of organisations in England.
Multi-disciplinary teams can share records between professional groups and settings. This reduces the burden of repeatedly asking people to repeat their stories and re-share their information, which can often be quite distressing. Important discharge or admission plans are more readily communicated between community and inpatient team, improving continuity of care. E-prescribing is “coming online” in a growing number of trusts. And technology makes historical problems with doctors’ infamously illegible handwriting redundant.
Technology is helping to make care more collaborative. Remote access to records on tablet computers during home visits mean that a professional can record, right then and there, what they have talked about with patients and carers.
As a part of Children and Young People’s IAPT, tablet computers are enabling people to collaboratively produce and review outcome measures in sessions. This provides an opportunity for joint reflection and celebration on the goals and progress a young person is making through treatment.
At its best, digital tools are created by professionals, patients and carers working together. Great examples of this to share are the Well Happy app developed by My Health London, which provides detailed information and advice to young people on managing health and accessing health services in London.
Sarah Amani, her team and local young people in Surrey have developed the My Journey App to help people under the care of an Early Intervention in Psychosis Team monitor their mood, manage their goals and track any medication they take.
As Dr Geraldine Strathdee recently learnt on her visit to The Institute of Mental Health and the National Institute for Health Research MindTech Healthcare Technology Co-Operative in Nottingham, there are 4000 apps currently available related to mental health.
Around the country groups of innovatively minded leaders, clinicians, designers, programmers, patients and carers are coming together to share ideas and develop and test new digital tools. The mhealth Habitat in Leeds, led by Victoria Betton, is a great example of this. At the centre of this work around the country is a significant need to create frameworks for looking at outcomes, safety and sustainability in these new digital tools. We need to be confident in the technology that both professionals and patients are using.
Though not the solution alone, as a part of transforming care in mental health, technology can embed and enhance the collaborative, community and patient-centred approach that services can deliver when they are at their best.
It gives us new ways to work together and enables information to cross traditional limits of time and space. In this way, technology allows us to make more informed choices about which services are available and how we access them.
Most importantly, it gives us more choice about how we help ourselves and those we care for.