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New digital portal for mental health support

Mental health treatment is set to get a digital upgrade under Federal Government reforms, which include a focus on making use of Australia’s leading digital technology and a new gateway to promote online services including e-therapies and self-help programs.

Those in the digital space were keen to work with the government to advance the innovation agenda that had stagnated over the last decade due to a lack of government investment, direction or will, mental health services said in response to the reforms.

Announcing the government’s new package on 26 November, Minister for Health Sussan Ley said the reforms would see individualised and integrated care packages for people with severe and complex needs and services commissioned through the Primary Health Networks (PHN).

The nine areas of reform also include a new Digital Mental Health Gateway to support consumers using the mental health system.

The gateway would provide telephone and online access to navigate mental health services and access to evidence-based information, advice and digital mental health treatment services including e-therapies and self-help resources, the government said.

This was in response to positive review findings on the effectiveness of digital mental health services and an environment where existing digital services were poorly integrated, difficult for consumers to access and navigate.

The gateway would be particularly beneficial for people with, or at risk of, mild to moderate mental illness and for some people with severe mental illness, said the government.

Technology focus welcomed

Following the reform announcement, Black Dog Institute director Professor Helen Christensen welcomed the focus on technology and the emphasis on online technology and called for government to work with innovators and technology companies.

She said much of the good research and development in this space has stagnated over the last 10 years, with little government investment, direction or will.

“To date the lukewarm government response has resulted in the development of prototypes but not the roll out of the innovations into clinical care or education settings,” Professor Christensen said.

Using technology to treat mental health is a key focus area for the institute’s research group Digital Dog and the organisation has developed online programs such as myCompass and MoodGym, which was used internationally.

Professor Christensen said the Black Dog Institute and others in the digital space wanted to work with the government to advance the innovation agenda but they “require a culture where government will work with innovators and technology companies”.

No financial models for developers to work with health to deliver solutions or incentives to put the models into place plus a lack of promotion and regulation of e-health solutions are among key problems that need to be addressed, she said.

By way of a solution, she suggested the following short-term measures:

  • investing in infrastructure to offer a range of interventions that currently exist to go to scale;
  • set up an organisation that regulates quality control, thus incentivising research and development;
  • invest in the IT structure to link personal devices to link to health records;
  • encourage the creation of new innovation technologies in this space; and
  • provide platforms for Australian companies to expand or develop products in the US and China.

“Asking the innovators in this space to wait for government or to sort this out for themselves is simply the wrong approach,” Professor Christensen said.

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