Transforming Mental Health Care With Data-Driven Solutions

Mental health care is undergoing a ‘digital revolution.’ With an array of new and exciting apps on offer – ranging from sleep trackers and meditation guides to cognitive behavioural therapy exercises – it could be argued that these innovations are helping to democratise access to mental health treatment in the UK.

Alongside the many options that engage and support people in taking control of their mental health, there are also signs of positive improvement in the variety ways people can access mental health services. What remains however, is a deeper, more fundamental issue in how we support the most vulnerable and those heading towards a crisis.

Within the bounds of traditional mental health care, many patients – for various reasons – tend to present at multiple care settings. These settings could include a GP’s office, a mental health hospital, or a community-based care service. Together, these settings can provide valuable mental health services and have robust frameworks in place for those occasions when a patient is flagged as heading towards a crisis, or in cases where urgent intervention may be required.

The problem, however, arises from the limited visibility Trusts in the region have of their patients attending these various care settings, leading to potentially disastrous gaps in care. This is a challenge the ongoing pandemic and its resulting lockdowns have only exacerbated, as there have been fewer opportunities to flag a patient in need of intervention.

In 2013, the consequences of inconsistent mental health data sharing were brought to light during a Birmingham homicide investigation, which made clear there were fundamental flaws in the mental health system. The tragedy highlighted the urgent need to improve information sharing and activate the necessary support people needed.

In response, a consortium of five mental health trusts in the West Midlands came together to establish the NHS-First dedicated mental health data sharing model with a common goal – to create a model of excellence in crisis care to improve quality and consistency, and enable better collaborative working across mental health services.

The latest and most reliable collaborative healthcare technology played a critical role in establishing the consortium’s integrated care record, which continues to ensure that swifter clinical decisions can be made in the most urgent of circumstances and when people are at their most vulnerable. And whilst these records have played an important role in improving mental health services in the West Midlands, this has not been adopted more widely so there remains huge potential for the NHS to replicate these standards across the UK.

It has become clear that the tech-enabled options available to those presenting for mental health issues is much broader than commonly thought, which means that more work needs to be done to roll out this architecture across the board to provide better visibility of those who may miss the safety net of mental health care. With a robust data-sharing model in place – where care providers can easily transfer relevant patient data across care settings –health care professionals could enable quicker intervention, implement more effective pathways or transfers of care, and ultimately, deliver widespread improvements in the quality and safety of mental health care.
Written by Chris Norton, Managing Director UK & Ireland, InterSystems