NHS develops first-of-its-kind app for mental health patients

Thousands suffering from severe depression and other illnesses gain access to new app

Decades of global stigma over electro-convulsive therapy (ECT), a potentially-life-saving treatment that helps thousands of patients with illnesses like severe depression, could soon be overcome as a result of a first-of-its-kind mobile app developed within the NHS.

Leicestershire Health Informatics Service (LHIS), which is hosted within Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust, was able to create the ECT app through a platform called mDesign. The platform has allowed the trust to rapidly build its own internal mobile development skills in a collaboration with mobile technology company, CommonTime.

The app has now been made freely available on the App Store and Google Play and is the first in a new programme of mobile app development activity for the trust.

Mobile technology has enormous potential in the NHS and in helping to change perceptions around mental health and associated treatments

The ECT tool is believed to be the first-ever mobile app to provide such a detailed, accurate, and engaging source of trusted information on ECT and also allows patients to access key contact information for specialists.

Dr Girish Kunigiri, consultant psychiatrist at Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust and project clinical lead, said: “Electro-convulsive therapy can be life-saving for patients suffering from severe psychiatric conditions. But despite high success rates in helping patients, stigma still exists.

“The ECT App is the first of its kind in psychiatry and an exemplary use of modern technology to educate patients and clinicians and to break stigma in mental health.

“For patients and their families, the app describes the whole ECT procedure from preparation to recovery, allowing people to make informed decisions in the consent process. GPs, support workers and other non-psychiatry specialists too can also better understand what this life-saving treatment really means for patients.”

ECT has existed for more than 75 years. But, despite major advances in procedures, anaesthesia and technology that have seen positive outcomes for as many as 70% of patients suffering from debilitating resistant cases of severe depression, mania and catatonia, the treatment is in decline.

Negative perceptions of ECT that relate to treatments from the 1950s are still common, partly because patients who are offered ECT treatment have, until now, been faced with an overload of information in leaflets and from across the internet, with much of this information lacking validity.

The new app now represents a significant step in dispelling myths surrounding ECT, by providing trustworthy information from the trust’s ECT centre of excellence, along with real patient stories and high-impact videos that feature clinicians and patients and give detailed guidance on modern procedures. Patients and non-psychiatry specialists alike can also access advice from ECT specialists, with key contact information presented through the app.

The mobile tool is expected to directly help thousands of patients and their families and has also been designed as a highly-effective training tool for healthcare professionals.

Apps, like the ECT tool, are extremely valuable in placing reliable, trusted and engaging information into the hands of patients and their support network

Developed by clinicians and technologists in partnership with patients, the app was launched at the Royal College of Psychiatrists and has since received national recognition as a finalist in the Patient Experience Network National Awards.

The trust was able to produce the app without a dedicated development team or any previous experience producing mobile apps.

Hundreds of individuals have already downloaded the app within the first weeks of going live and, even though it was developed in Leicestershire, it can be used by patients across the UK. It has even had a global reception, with downloads reported from Australia and the US. Assistance is also now being offered to other trusts that wish to customise the app.

Sarah Ost, service delivery manager at the Leicestershire Health Informatics Service, said: “This project signals a very important move in the way the NHS develops IT capabilities. Through our partnership with CommonTime, we have developed a ground-breaking app of relevance to clinical challenges across the NHS and beyond. Anyone can download the ECT app, but we also now look forward to helping other trusts across the country tailor this application and others, to spread benefits to many more patients and professionals as quickly as possible.”

Steve Carvell, head of healthcare at CommonTime. added: “Mobile technology has enormous potential in the NHS and in helping to change perceptions around mental health and associated treatments.

“Apps, like the ECT tool, are extremely valuable in placing reliable, trusted and engaging information into the hands of patients and their support network. The staff at Leicestershire have been determined to quickly develop their ability to produce useful technology that can provide potentially life-saving information to people in the way that they need it.”

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