Chris Netherton, M.D.

Finding innovative ways to deliver mental health services

Over 40% of UK adults will experience mental health problems at some point in their lifetime. Clever digital technologies can now provide new ways to tackle this challenge.

Over recent years, a number of organisations have been developing IT tools to support the treatment of mental health problems. These include making it easier for patients to track and record their symptoms, apps which can flag up potential problems before they become acute, and greater online access to services and support.



of UK adults will experience mental health problems

One example is Monsenso, which provides a smartphone app on which patients can log their mood and symptoms, helping to promote a greater level of awareness and self-care. The data collected from their self-assessments is shared with their clinician and can be used to help guide their treatment. It can play a vital role in identifying an individual’s triggers and early warning signs, so that remedial action can be taken.

Overall, the application of new technologies like these in the field of mental health has not been developing as quickly as many experts had hoped. Therefore, it was very welcome news this month when NHS England announced that it was investing £35m to help seven trusts become Global Digital Exemplars for Mental Health.

NHS England is to invest

£35 million

to help seven trusts become Global Digital Exemplars for Mental Health

The trusts involved have already shown leadership in the field of eHealth and this additional investment will help them build upon the great work they have done so far.

One of the trusts, Mersey Care is developing an app which can help identify when people are at risk from self-harm or suicide and put in place the appropriate response. Another trust, Oxford Health, is creating an online platform for dealing with a range of mental health conditions. Users will be able to access a number of proven therapies via their computer or smartphone.

From a Microtest perspective, it was clear that the move towards electronic patient records is being seen as an important enabler for these new types of treatment. Having sophisticated tools which can read information back to a patient’s individual health record will play a key role in how these types of systems are developed in the future.

In this context, it was good to hear Ian Hulatt, professional lead for mental health nursing at the RCN, comment that: “Real-time access both to patient records and treatment best practice could provide huge benefits to patients, their families, and the mental health nurses treating them.”

I hope that these new ideas will see continued growth and adoption over the coming years, as our clinicians get more experience of using them with patients and proving their effectiveness. They are a great way of using technology to give wider patient access to services, get patients more pro-actively involved in their care, and intercept mental health issues before they become acute.

This is another really exciting example of how technology is transforming the way we identify and treat even the most difficult illnesses.