9 January 2023

Blog by Laura Boland

Laura Boland

The Innovation Agency supports the development of many transformational and innovative solutions, often with the potential to address challenges faced by our local mental health system.

Good technology is an enabler that helps your workforce to deliver healthcare more rapidly and effectively, whenever and wherever it is needed. 

Good technology can improve care.

But, in mental healthcare where human interaction and empathy are pivotal, is it also true that technology can worsen care? Without face-to-face interaction, could people hide the truth behind a screen or refuse to engage at all? It can be tempting to assume technology provides all the answers, but putting screens between the patient and the care giver can act as a barrier, obscuring subtle cues.

The Innovation Agency conducted an enquiry - Digitally-enabled mental health services in the North West Coast: an appreciative enquiry – that aimed to bring to the surface insights and solutions that can be safely and effectively spread across the region. It revealed that some patients chose not to engage with digital technology at all, and digital exclusion can cause a two-tier system with some patients missing out altogether on the care they need.

The appreciative enquiry is a process for facilitating positive change in human systems. Through positive, open questioning it builds knowledge of strengths, assets and opportunities for further spread and improvement.

Many of our colleagues in the mental health system are still in active crisis mode, dealing with trauma caused by a pandemic and the other major events of recent years. Despite this, teams continued to push ahead with transformation and during the pandemic innovation adoption progressed at an accelerated rate.

Rates of transformation were not uniform, or uniformly successful, and there are pockets of innovation adoption and improved care that the rest of the system has yet to catch up with.  There is localised intelligence and understanding of which technology works well, for which patients and with which conditions.

For this appreciative enquiry we engaged with our three mental trusts, creating a report that will act as a foundation to build on, identifying high priority areas to give focus in future. As with all our work, we hope to catalyse positive, safe, system change and match local need with innovative products that will improve care, and not worsen it.

In some ways the report highlighted what we already knew: that patients must remain at the heart of all decisions and technology should support a consistent group of staff to stay close to a patient and deliver care effectively and efficiently. It also highlighted many opportunities and tangible challenges that the AHSN network can set to work addressing.

Laura Boland discusses the appreciative enquiry on our YouTube channel here.

Laura Boland

Head of Programmes - Innovation Pipeline, Evaluation and Insight



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