5 technology innovations changing the dynamics of mental health care

Technology is developing at such an exponential rate that there is barely an area of our lives which isn’t affected.

It’s changed everything from the way we communicate with our nearest and dearest to how we choose our next holiday or indulge in one-click shopping with delivery direct to the boot of our cars.

Mental healthcare is another area to be catapulted into the ever-evolving world of technology. As the single largest cause of disability in the UK, mental health disorders affect one in four of us during our lifetime, with an estimated cost to the economy of £105 billion per year.

Here we explore the top five innovations in eHealth and mHealth which are having an impact on diagnosis, prognosis, symptom monitoring and treatment planning.

1/ mHealth Apps

There has been a rapid increase in the number of mental health-related apps in the last five years developed by commercial enterprises, third sector organisations, NHS trusts and even patients themselves. As of 1 February 2015, the NHS health apps library contains 23 apps categorised under mental health.

These mobile apps include symptom trackers, diary updates, appointment and medication reminders, social networking and motivational prompts. By recording mood, behaviour and activities using well-validated measures such as the PHQ-9 depression scale, patients can share vital information with their clinician. Some apps allow real-time data to be entered into e-care records which alert staff if symptoms suggest deterioration.

The most popular apps including ClinTouch, MyJourney, Buddy App and WellHappy can help early detection and intervention.

2/ Psychological therapies

E-mental health development allows patients to exercise greater control in their treatment choice, whether for personal circumstances or cultural, religious and social reasons. One solution doesn’t fit all and patients now have more choice than ever before to select which treatment or combination of treatments work best.

The use of online psychological interventions is one such development. This method allows evidence based interventions such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to be delivered to more people, more of the time.

This technology uses synchronous video, text or voice communications to offer therapeutic services 24/7 via mobile, tablet and PC. The most successful providers of such treatment used by the NHS are Xenzone, Psychologyonline and Big White Wall.

3/ Sensor technology

Real-time symptom monitoring is key to more timely adjustment of mental health treatment. Sensors such as cameras, microphones, gyroscopes and accelerometers now come as standard in most mobile devices and smartphones.

These applications can give useful insights into changes in a person’s activities and behaviour. Subtle changes such as sleep patterns can constitute early warning signs of a condition relapse. Noticing these signs allows for prompt intervention in the case of conditions such as depression and bipolar disorder.

4/ Remote video consultations

Telehealth is helping to transform the way healthcare services are accessed by providing fast, high-quality and convenient one-to-one consultations. For people who are disabled, have limited mobility or live in remote areas or even need out-of-hours appointments, remote video consultations can play an essential part in their treatment plan.

Video conferencing is constantly evolving, allowing tech-savvy youngsters, time-poor workers and the older generation to receive treatment from the comfort of their own home at a time that suits their daily routine.

5/ Gaming

‘Gamification’ is the use of smart computer games to motivate behaviour change. Research carried out at Nottingham University found that playing computer games can foster psychological benefits.

Participants are encouraged to share their reactions to scenarios they encounter in the games with their therapists. Affective controls within the games allow the therapist to look at the emotional response of the player and analyse their reasoning processes.

Although they are not a replacement for one-to-one consultations, technology-assisted interventions can play a major role in collaborative mental health care. It is estimated that around 75 per cent of people with diagnosable mental illness do not receive any treatment at all. Advances in technology can help close this gap in service provision by widening access to a range of treatment plans.

View slider version