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Report advocates caution in using digital technology in mental healthcare


Mark Say Managing Editor

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Digital technology can be a big asset in mental healthcare but it requires sufficient supplies of hardware, thorough staff training and a careful approach, according to a report on its application in the North-West.

The Innovation Agency, which fosters improvements in health and care in the region, has published an 'appreciative enquiry' into what has and has not worked since the introduction of a plan to offer a range of digital support for mental health patients in the region.

It says it is a snapshot of three unnamed trusts with an emphasis on remote consultations, digital intervention and remote monitoring.

Key findings of the enquiry include that the technology has helped staff work remotely, makes it possible to bring in experts from other geographic areas, and was a major source of support during the Covid-19 pandemic.

But there is a warning that technology can worsen as well as improve care. Some patients are more comfortable than others with remote consultations and using devices, and with the danger that those who are uncomfortable could fall off the system.

Hardware issue

The availability of hardware such as smartphones and tablet computers is also a big issue, with the danger that some patients and staff could be excluded.

In addition, it has to be acknowledged that there is a widespread desire for face-to-face consultations and that technology should not become the only solution.

Training staff in the use of technology is a big factor in making it successful and ensuring that staff and clinicians will have trust in any new innovations, the report says.

Writing in an accompanying blogpost, the Innovation Agency’s head of innovation pipeline, evaluation and insight Laura Boland said: “In some ways the report highlighted what we already knew: that patients must remain at the heart of all decisions and technology should support a consistent group of staff to stay close to a patient and deliver care effectively and efficiently.

“It also highlighted many opportunities and tangible challenges that the AHSN network can set to work addressing.”

She also said that, while the pandemic speeded adoption of the technology, the rates of transformation varied between trusts. This has led to “localised intelligence and understanding of which technology works well, for which patients and which conditions”.


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