A seven-part Medical Journal of Australia supplement and accompanying editorial published yesterday details the trials from Project Synergy 2014-2016, delivered by the University of Sydney with $5.5 million funding from the federal government; the digital mental health care platform has since extended across a range of vulnerable populations.
“Project Synergy: co-designing technology-enabled solutions for Australian mental health services reform” includes case studies on the initial four trial areas – of people attending university; in three disadvantaged NSW communities, at risk of suicide; and attending five headspace centres.
Development of the platform is now being delivered through spinout InnoWell – a joint venture between the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre and Pricewaterhouse Coopers Australia with $30 million government funding over three years to 2020.
The aim of InnoWell is to integrate digital mental health interventions into one platform, incorporating other personal monitoring features such as FitBit, highlighting emergency help contacts and including escalations as a backup notification to the treating health professional and service when action is required.
The platform does this within an environment that promotes active and ongoing partnerships with health professionals, while protecting personal privacy. It incorporates a wide range of available online resources and other features that keep users of care in continuous contact with their health professionals.
The platform is being embedded in a wide-range of service environments and can be accessed in-between visits. Participating services now include a large multidisciplinary general practice in western Sydney, headspace services for youth in Eastern Sydney and Northern NSW, and people living with body image issues. Developmental studies are underway with younger children and the elderly with complex medical, cognitive and mental health issues.
Co-director of the University’s Brain and Mind Centre and lead author, Professor Ian Hickie, said systemic change was already happening worldwide – what he referred to as the ‘Uberisation’ of mental health care; expert planning and review, publicly supported digital disruption had the potential to reduce the incidence of suicide, which is a leading killer of youth in Australia.
“We want to complement existing mental health interventions by offering support to people wherever they are – when they need help the most,” Professor Hickie said.
“We are co-designing these solutions, in vulnerable populations such as suicide hotspots in regional areas like the Nothern Rivers of NSW, and people are telling us we have made a positive difference in their lives.
“Our vision is to transform the mental health landscape, filling a critical need in terms of access and engagement through a scalable digital platform to help improve peoples’ mental health and wellbeing.”
Declaration: Professor Hickie is the Scientific Advisor to, and a five percent equity shareholder in, InnoWell Pty Ltd, which was formed to deliver the $30m Australian government-funded Project Synergy. MJA supplements are peer-reviewed, paid 'stand-alone' style publications subject to a competitive process.