Delivering holistic care for physical health conditions through digital talking therapies

    February 8, 2023

    Could digital talking therapies tools help to provide more well-rounded care to people with physical health conditions? Health Innovation Network project manager Gemma Dakin discusses the potential benefits of these digital tools and work being done to increase their usage.

    The links between physical and mental health are well-established. About one in three people with a long-term physical health condition also has a mental health problem (most often depression or anxiety), and people with mental health conditions may also have a long term physical health condition such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease.

    Despite this, approaches to treatment often remain segregated. Looking specifically at treatments primarily for physical health conditions, access to high-quality mental health support or “joined-up” physical and mental health interventions is limited.

    However, in recent years, innovations have started to emerge which provide tailored support to help people manage the mental health implications of physical health conditions. Many of these innovations are based around providing digital access to talking therapies (sometimes known as Improving Access to Psychological Therapies or IAPT).

    Talking therapies use techniques such as guided self-help or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to help people self-manage their symptoms and find improve their wellbeing. They are most suited to treating mental health problems of relatively low severity; there is a growing nationally-recognised evidence base suggesting they can improve the quality of life for people with physical health conditions ranging from diabetes to lower back pain.

    Improving access to talking therapies in south London

    Through the Health Innovation Network’s activities in mental health, the work of DigitalHealth.London and the work of our colleagues at King’s Health Partners (KHP), we have a well-developed network of promising innovators providing solutions to support mental wellbeing for people with physical health conditions.

    In late 2022, the HIN co-hosted a webinar with the Healthy London Partnership showcasing some of these solutions to an audience of NHS commissioners, clinicians and other interested parties.

    Presenting at the webinar were:

    • Limbic: a chatbot-based solution designed to speed up the patient journey between assessment and treatment and offering tailored psychoeducation and CBT.
    • Silvercloud: a system providing digital access to therapy and therapeutic tools, currently being used across four long-term condition areas.
    • Minddistrict: a versatile online mental health platform providing access to services such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), CBT and psychoeducation.
    • Mahana: a specialist digital treatment for people living with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

    Each of these innovations presented evidence for the potential benefits of their solution to support people with physical health conditions – not only through improving outcomes for patients directly, but also through reduced administrative burden on services. You can find the slides presented at the event here.

    With 1.9 million people with depression or anxiety disorders expected to be using talking therapies services by 2024, digital services will have an increasing role to play in managing demand and enabling convenient access to effective care. New innovations embracing person-centred co-design will help to provide more different ways for patients to access tailored support. Waiting lists for many forms of treatment will continue to be a challenge across the mental and physical health sectors; evidence-based digital solutions which help people manage and improve their mental health and wellbeing will undoubtedly grow to be an important element of providing truly integrated care.

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    Interested in using digital talking therapies to support patients? Get in touch with the team to find out how we can help

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