Mental healthcare should be 'digital by default', says SLaM CEO

Technology fundamentally changes the relationship between patient and doctor, says SLaM's Matthew Patrick

Healthcare should embrace technology by default, Matthew Patrick, CEO of the South London and Maudsley Foundation Trust (SLaM), the UK's biggest mental health care provider, told IT Pro.

Speaking at the Digital Innovation and Mental Health event hosted in London by law firm Osborne Clarke, Patrick spoke about the need for mental healthcare to keep pace with the changes to doctor/patient relationships brought about by the internet.

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"If I was going to choose the single biggest shift that is going to impact upon healthcare in the next decade, it is the changing nature of the contract between citizens and professionals," he said. "Citizens are now more informed, they have access to the internet, to information, to data. Through the consumer movement, people's attitude towards consultation and services has changed.

"People have a different expectation of the professionals they meet, they often come to consultations with a certain amount of information. Some are highly informed, some come with a lot of misinformation because it's difficult to know what you're getting on the internet. But there is undoubtedly a big shift taking place, and that is a shift that we as mental health professionals really want to support and encourage."

A quarter of adults will experience a mental health problem in any given year, as well as one in ten children under 14. Conversely, the cost to the NHS from mental health has risen to 112 billion per year, which outstrips the 105 billion being spent on general health each year.

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Myhealthlocker, an online platform launched by SLaM, helps those suffering from mental health issues to access their own records, track their progress and share data with their clinician.

"[Digital] can give people access to high quality, curated information about a whole range of conditions, about self-management and the simple treatments that people can use themselves to manage common mental health conditions," Patrick said.

The NHS's plan, which sought to collect patient data from GP medical records and share it with the national Health and Social Care Information centre, was met with criticism last year after patient groups and GPs complained individuals could be identified by the data collected.

Calling the current app market "the Wild West" for independent healthcare apps, Patrick continued: "What we need is proper curating of NHS accredited apps. We need a function, a kitemark, that will say 'this actually has an evidence base', 'we know this works', 'here are another six that are like it'. We do need a NHS app store that is a curated, accredited app store, not just for apps that the NHS has developed."

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In November, Osborne Clarke called for the EU to ditch plans that would prevent health-related data collected from wearables and other devices from being used to improve services and recommend treatment, arguing that its potential to diagnose patients faster, saving lives, was substantial.

However, before this it was reported that some NHS-approved apps were leaking sensitive data, with 29 per cent of them sending information across the internet without encrypting it first.

Machina Research's Jeremy Green raised the issue last year of the ability for older people to give informed consent as to what can be done with their health-related data, which could lead to a minefield of regulatory problems. For Myhealthlocker, patients are able to choose to whom their data is accessible, and data collated for analytical reasons is first stripped of identifying information.

Differing levels of access to technology can mean many patients, such as older people suffering from mental health conditions, find it hard to access the services available to them. To tackle the problem as a whole, however, Patrick believes the foundation must be laid first.

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"We should be digital by default, that should be the default setting, and then you have to address the access difficulties and be cognisant of the populations who are going to struggle," he said. "And some of our populations will struggle with access, but if you start at the other end, the risk is that you never end up doing anything."

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