Charity goes high tech to help mental health sufferers
By Linda Currey Post
Monday, 16 April, 2018
UK-based charity Turning Point is applying advanced computer technology to support and help treat people suffering from drug and alcohol misuse, mental health issues, learning disabilities, and other debilitating conditions.
Use of synthetic marijuana is a particularly vexing problem in the UK, especially among teens, who often don’t realise that the drugs — marketed in colourful packages as a “safe high” — contain psychotropic chemicals that can cause seizures, psychosis, even death, according to a recent study.
“We're entering into quite a new era of substances that we haven't seen before,” notes Amarjit Dhillon, CIO of Turning Point, which began 53 years ago as an alcohol treatment centre and now offers treatment, counselling, and social services to a wider range of patients. It also helps the homeless and individuals recently released from prison find housing and jobs.
“We have the opportunity to use technology to be more effective in the treatment of people at the fringes of society,” Dhillon says.
The goal, he says, is simple: Save lives. Among Turning Point’s technology-driven innovations:
- Computerised medical histories: Created using Oracle Service Cloud, these records give Turning Point caregivers immediate access to a patient’s family medical history, prescription drug usage, and past treatments — information that’s often critical to a correct diagnosis.
- Swifter access to treatment: Using an online system based on Oracle Service Cloud, Turning Point’s staffers set up timely appointments with its healthcare providers. They can bypass the UK’s long referral process, whereby citizens typically wait a month to see a National Health Service doctor. Patient wait times for medical care drop from about four weeks to as little as two days. In the case of a mentally ill client experiencing an episode, the client can get an over-the-phone assessment from a Turning Point therapist within moments.
- Remote mental health assessments: When the police make an arrest, they can use specially equipped vans — complete with a laptop and a 4G connection — to conduct a videoconference between people they detain for abnormal behaviour and the mental health workers back at Turning Point. Using Oracle Service Cloud, the counsellors have easy access to those electronic patient records, plus protocols to follow to assess the detainee’s behaviour and recommend next steps in care.
- Timely and consistent background information: Using Oracle Content and Experience Cloud, staff can easily distribute treatment protocols to all Turning Point locations and employee websites. Those updates guarantee that all of the agency’s care workers have immediate access to the latest information about the toxicity of and treatment for exposure to those ever-changing street drugs. The technology also makes it easy for Turning Point to create microsites with information about new drugs and various diseases as they become known, for supporting the wider healthcare community.
- Chatbots: Built on Oracle Mobile Cloud, chatbots use machine learning algorithms to offer patients advice in between conversations with a healthcare provider. For example, someone who begins to suffer an anxiety attack while stuck in a meeting can have a text conversation on his smartphone with a chatbot that reminds him to apply relaxation techniques and other coping measures. Chatbots offer patients simple access to help anywhere and anytime they need that assistance. Turning Point is now evaluating whether to use chatbots that respond to voice — as well as text — commands.
Looking to the future, Turning Point is evaluating new technologies, including machine learning, to help it determine which treatments are most effective. The agency is also researching blockchain to track the distribution and use of prescription drugs among its clientele.
Clients are encouraged to engage with the agency and its medical professionals via the channel of their choice — phone, website, mobile device, or chatbot, CIO Dhillon says.
Modern technology, he says, helps Turning Point’s doctors, nurses, and drug recovery professionals provide more accurate diagnoses, deliver treatments faster, improve health outcomes, and even increase public safety. He applauds the high-profile efforts of the Royal Family to encourage citizens to seek help for depression and other mental health issues.
“There has been a shift in focus in this country toward getting people the help they need before their mental health deteriorates and the problem becomes worse,” Dhillon says. “So we’re interested in getting to people early and getting to people with the right pathways of treatment.”
Based in London, the charity offers its services from more than 200 healthcare facilities, clinics, and hospitals across England. In some areas, Turning Point partners with other healthcare providers and takes its services to the streets.
Turning Point says 30,000 people use its services. It competes with other healthcare facilities for contracts funded by the National Health Service.
When Dhillon joined Turning Point from the private sector four years ago, he saw the opportunity to use technology to help the organisation not just improve services, but also reduce costs.
“There is always an increasing demand for healthcare, and we have the treatments people want and need,” he says. “But the corresponding funding for healthcare doesn’t always increase proportionally. I thought technology could help this organisation remain competitive so we can continue to serve our citizens for another 53 years.”
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