Category Archives: Mental Health

App for serious mental illness starts clinic-training phase

The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) announced funding ($1.8 million) to bring a mental health smartphone app into real world practice. The app is called FOCUS, which has shown promise as a supportive therapy for people who have serious mental illness such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. 

The development team,headed by Dror Ben-Zeev, Ph.D. a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington School of Medicine, have guided the app’s development through early user studies, the most recent of which showed that patients found the digital therapy more engaging than a scheduled trip to the clinic — the far more resource-intensive conventional care.

The next step for FOCUS involves rolling out a system aimed at teaching clinicians how to engage patients to use the app confidently and how to get the most information from patients’ use.

“We demonstrated that FOCUS is clinically potent in several studies, but to move this from academic research to real-world practice, we need an implementation approach that includes digital trainings for clinicians who are not used to mental health apps. This will support their journey as digital health adopters, which is a daunting task for some. We’re creating evergreen materials so any clinician will be able to get FOCUS up and running with their patients quickly,” Ben-Zeev said.

Part of the study is to understand how different clinic staff might need different information upfront about FOCUS to introduce it in a compelling way to their colleagues.

“It could be frontline clinicians or admin support people or team leaders, so we need to ensure that we finely tune the information that helps FOCUS make the greatest impact it can,” Ben-Zeev said.

The FOCUS app has written and video content adapted from in-person, evidence-based interventions. Its treatment domains address:

  • auditory hallucinations (“hearing voices”)
  • mood problems (typically depression and anxiety)
  • sleep
  • social functioning such as social skills training or paranoia
  • medication use (reminders and information to examine counter-therapeutic beliefs that people might have about their medications)

The App is Always Available

The app’s 24/7 availability is a huge advantage for patients who may have mental health needs outside clinic hours and who otherwise might need to wait several weeks or more to address an episode in a clinic environment. 

Moreover, many patients with serious mental illness receive services at community mental health centers. These facilities often are under-resourced and less able to provide continuity of care due to high turnover rates among their staff. FOCUS can provide continuity of care as clinical staffing ebbs and flows, Ben-Zeev said. 

The study will be conducted in collaboration with the adult outpatient programs at community mental health agencies in New Hampshire and Missouri that care for people with serious mental illness: 

Sources:

UW Medicine Newsroom

PCORI News

BRITE Center (Focus Developers)

NICE’s Early Value Assessment for Medtech

The explosion in digital health products has left National Health Service commissioners in the UK wondering how they can possibly sift out what works and what provides maximum benefit for the service and for patients.

The Early Value Assessment for Medtech will offer a rapid assessment of digital products, devices and diagnostics for clinical effectiveness and value for money. The goal of this new approach is that the service and patients will be able to benefit sooner.

Early Value Assessment is being designed to draw in the most promising and impactful medical technologies where the evidence base is still emerging, starting with digital products, in areas where there is greatest need.  Whether its empowering patients to better manage their own health and seek clinical advice, reducing admissions and waiting lists or supporting clinicians and other front-line staff to provide better quality care this new program will help to alleviate system pressures as the NHS recovers from the COVID pandemic.

In this accelerated approach, the first two pilot digital health topics will begin their early value assessments this month (June) with a view to publishing findings in October. This is much faster than a full NICE Medtech evaluation meaning benefits will be realized sooner, while companies generate more evidence required for a full NICE evaluation at a later stage.  

The first two pilots are digital apps for depression and anxiety in children and others will quickly follow in adult mental health, early cancer diagnosis, cardiovascular disease and other areas that support elective recovery following the pandemic.

In this ‘fast-track’ approach, NICE is working closely with NHS England and all its system partners to help develop commercial and data collection arrangements to support the technologies that go through early value assessment in adoption and scaling and to make this new program of work deliver on the potential of digital health for patients.

Source: NHS Blog

Long-term Risks of Mental Health Outcomes Post-Covid-19

The short-term consequences from COVID-19 have been described after the initial “acute” infection passes. These have included not only a variety of physical symptoms, but also psychiatric symptoms have been reported. A team of VA researches has been shining a light on various dangerous and enduring consequences that can arise following the initial COVID bout. These COVID complications include mental health disorders.

A study published this week in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) by researchers with the VA St. Louis Health Care System focused on mental health disorders following COVID-19 infection.  They found that, even in people not needing hospitalization while infected with COVID-19, serious health issues related to mental health could persist, or pop up, in the weeks and months following the acute stage. They describe that the reasons for the increased mental health risks after COVID are not completely clear. Biologic changes may occur in the body that affect the brain, and nonbiologic changes such as social isolation and trauma may also be at play.

The researchers analyzed medical records in a database within VA, which operates the largest integrated health care system in the United States. The analysis included nearly 154,000 patients who had tested positive for COVID-19 in a defined time frame from March 2020 into January 2021. (The time frame predated the delta and omicron variants, as well as wide availability of vaccines.) A comparison was made of these patients’ health information with data from more than 11 million people who had not had COVID-19 infection—about half of them from the same time frame and the other half from a pre-pandemic timespan.

The research group compared the mental health risks for those who had COVID-19 and survived the first 30 days of infection with the same health outcomes among those who were not infected. Over a study period of about a year, the researchers identified elevated risks for issues such as anxiety, depression, stress disorders, opioid use, substance use disorders, and sleep conditions. 

“We’ve all suffered some sort of distress from this pandemic—maybe a measure of anxiety or difficulty sleeping,” says lead investigator Al-Aly. “But these challenges are magnified, especially in those who were admitted to the hospital during the acute part of their COVID battle but also in many who experienced only mild or moderate symptoms.”

Compared to those who did not have COVID, those in the COVID group had a 60 percent higher risk of having any mental health disorder or mental health-related prescriptions.

Findings by the type of mental health issue were:

  • Anxiety: 35 percent higher risk in the COVID-19 group
  • Depression: 39 percent higher risk
  • Sleep disorder: 41 percent higher risk
  • Opioid use: 76 percent higher risk
  • Opioid use disorder: 34 percent higher risk
  • Non-opioid substance use disorders: 20 percent higher risk.
Hospitalized COVID-19 patients fared the worst. (BMJ 2022)

Given the large number of people with COVID-19, these findings could translate into a huge impact in the United States and around the world, the authors point out. A strength of our research was the large number of patients and the ability to leverage the breadth and depth of the VA’s electronic health records system,” highlights Al-Aly. As a pioneer in the use of electronic health records, VA “can offer answers to questions about areas including the pandemic that would be hard for others to address.”

The researchers were a multidisciplinary research team for making the rigorous analysis possible brought together public health experts from across disciplines, successfully marrying the medical and research perspectives. An Editorial in the BMJ by lead researcher points out that mental health disorders represent one part of the multifaceted nature of long covid which can affect nearly every organ system (including the brain, heart, and kidneys). Our results should be used to promote awareness of this risk among people with covid-19 and to guide efforts for the early identification and treatment of affected individuals.

Research Article: Xie Y, Xu E, Al-Aly Z. Risks of mental health outcomes in people with covid-19: cohort study. BMJ 2022; 376 (Published 16 February 2022)