Moving past the physical – how tech can help our mental health.

    October 5, 2023

    Medtech often has a focus on physical health or issues directly related such as wait list management for elective care. So Jill Owens, senior project manager in the mental health team at the Health Innovation Network, the AHSN for south London, was pleasantly surprised to find more companies developing products for the mental health sector. Here she discusses what she found and why it’s important.

    I have been attending HETT, the Healthcare Excellence Through Technology conference where innovators and healthcare professionals share the best of themselves in London since its very first show.  This year I was looking forward to seeing colleagues old and new but - with a good deal of focus being on wait list management in elective care - I was prepared not to find radical development in the mental health arena.  I was delighted to be completely wrong and to meet several companies making exciting strides in supporting people with their mental health.

    These included well-known companies developing their offer, such as Kooth.  Kooth has been supporting young people’s mental health since 2004 and claims to be the largest mental health platform for young people, working with services across England and the US.  Simeon on the Kooth stand was brimming with ideas for development of Kooth, including how it can be used to tackle the needs of specific groups such as young black men, and how we can have a joined-up approach to mental health crisis.  We had an energetic discussion about how to engage system leaders and get data to support future action.

    It was also great to learn how other established companies, such as DrDoctor, are actively looking to expand their offer to mental health services.

    There was emerging innovation, such as CareLoop Health, an AI driven tool which has been developed by the University of Manchester and partners to prevent relapse of psychosis and schizophrenia by alerting care teams to its signs, which offers a critical treatment window for delay or prevention. Each year a person with psychosis has a one in four chance of relapse. Studies such as one published in the Lancet in 2022, show a reduction in full relapse with use of CareLoop as well as additional care benefits.  It was exciting to speak to Ben at the CareLoop stand about the team’s ambitions to spread this innovation more widely.

    Extended reality (XR) is also becoming big news in health innovation. SynchVR Medical already has established tools to address pain management and anxiety in children and adults. At its HETT stand I was able to have a demo of its technology which has been adapted to include exposure therapy for phobias and anger management. The demo involved popping on the headset and selecting from a variety of examples, including road rage and even an office!  The experience was quite unique and can truly be described as immersive.

    We know that since the COVID-19 pandemic there has been an exponential rise in the severity and number of people seeking help for their mental health (NHSconfed, 2022), and an associated rise in wait lists. There still needs to be more discussion around how investment in technology can support mental health.  But speaking to the innovators at 2023 HETT conference I am confident that there is a great deal of energy at hand to develop ways innovation can be used to improve the lives of people with mental health issues.

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