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Health sector digitisation vital to combat mental health crisis

Collaboration and digitisation within the health industry is critical to deal with the growing mental health crisis, but more support is needed from policymakers

The healthcare industry must embrace collaboration and digitisation to deal with the mental health epidemic, but full support from those in power is essential, according to Jamil El-Imad, founder of cloud-based neuroscience analytics platform NeuroPro.

A survey conducted by the National Centre of Social Research (NatCen) in 2016 asked 5,000 adults about their experience of mental health and found that one in four had been diagnosed with a mental illness – and one-fifth of people still thought “one of the main causes of mental illness is a lack of self-discipline and willpower”.

A further 18% of adults reported having experienced a mental illness but not having been diagnosed.

The most common diagnosis was depression, with 19% of people surveyed saying they had been diagnosed with the condition. Other common diagnoses were anxiety, phobias and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and eating disorders categorised as “serious conditions”.

“The survey leaves us in no doubt as to the prevalence of mental ill-health in England,” said Rachel Craig, head of health surveys at NatCen.

Prime minister Theresa May has spoken extensively about mental health since coming to power. “As a society, we have seen mental illness as secondary to physical health needs and failed to grasp the toll it can take, not just on those we love but the nation as a whole,” said May in a speech in October 2017.

“I believe that to truly demonstrate the values of compassion and progress that we as a society share, we must transform the way we think about, and treat, mental illness.

“As prime minister, I am determined to employ the power of government to change the way we deal with mental health problems across the country and at every stage of life.”

El-Imad said he agreed with the urgent need to act, and suggested that learning more about the human brain would be key to see progress in this field.

“I only got involved in brain science and brain tech in the last decade, and I was under the impression that we didn’t understand how the brain works, and this is a shocking reality to me,” El-Imad told Computer Weekly.

“Brain science has not advanced in the last three years as much as it should have done. These are not just my words, but the words of the people who work in this field. So it is now time to bring this topic into the spotlight.”

Read more about IT for mental health

  • Birmingham and Solihull chief clinical information officer talks about the importance of sharing health data between providers and the challenges it brings.
  • Technology can play a significant role in mental health, but has been largely overlooked by both initiatives and funding. However, things are about to change.

In 2016, research conducted by the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) looked at the state of digitisation in sectors across the US economy, inspecting 27 indicators falling into three broad categories: digital assets, digital usage and digital workers. It showed the healthcare industry at the bottom of the digitisation pyramid.

“The digital health space is such a major topic because it’s so behind all the other sectors,” said El-Imad. “But this is where the opportunity is, and to make it happen, you need the infrastructure – and cloud is the best way forward.”

El-Imad believes that new technologies such as the Amazon Web Services (AWS)-based NeuroPro Cloud, which “facilitates collation, curation and computation of extremely large electroencephalogram (EEG) datasets from anywhere at any time”, can cut the data processing time for hospitals from six days to an hour, greatly improving accuracy and efficiency and reducing costs.

Another project in development uses virtual and augmented reality (AR and VR) to transport patients to the live environments of their choice – such as a tropical beach – to improve mindfulness, with other uses in the treatment of phobias are also being trialled.

This technology is still in its experimental stages, but El-Imad said it may be available for everyone to use within a couple of years.

“You will soon be able to have this on your phone, and share results with everybody using the cloud, making it easier for prevention and diagnosis to be implemented,” said El-Imad.

However, he also noted that initiatives like this will only come to fruition, and strides will only be made to bring about change in the healthcare industry, if those in power show their full support.

“Deployment is a problem,” he said. “Having support from the highest authority is the only way of making a project work, because along the way, you are facing so many critical issues and so many agendas, especially in healthcare.

“Strong lobbyists and divisions that stand to lose from an initiative will stand in your way. So they say that projects, even successful ones, take three years to devise and five years to deploy. Unless you get the fullest support, these projects end up being derailed.”

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