Emerging Mental Health Apps

Episode Summary

Learn from Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences about how different apps are helping to support psychological health in Canada, as well as globally.

Episode Transcription

Title: Emerging Health Apps

Guests: Sanaz Riahi, RN, PhD, Vice President, Practice, Academics and Chief Nursing Executive, Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences 

Host: Christine Parent, Associate Vice President, MEDITECH


Sanaz: One in five people experience mental illness or come in contact with someone really close to them and, whether you are actually working in a mental health specialty or not, you're going to come in contact with people that are struggling.

Christine: I'm Christine Parent, MEDITECH's Associate Vice President, and, once again, I'm talking with my guest, Sanaz Riahi RN, PHD, the Vice President of Practice, Academics, and Chief Nursing Executive at Ontario Shores Center for Mental Health Sciences. During our last episode, we talked about ways of improving mental health services both in Canada and globally. Today, we delve into some newer technology innovations that have been accelerated by the COVID-19 crisis but are sure to remain moving forward.

So, looking ahead post-pandemic, what are some technology solutions that you're seeing that you expect will help support mental health in the community for the future?

Sanaz: Technology in healthcare has now become, over the last year at least, more so in the forefront for everyone because of everyone going virtual. What I can share with you is our virtual-attended appointments, especially in our ambulatory services, have increased by over a thousand percent. You can appreciate that, for us, this is also very important. How do we continue to support our patients?

I think for us, you touched on the Patient Portal a little bit earlier. I know with MEDITECH some of their functionalities have evolved, which has been really great for us. We're working with teams, and with patients, and families who see what that looks like in the workflow and in their care and, really looking at this year, implementing these functionalities to give people better access to their own information as well as engaging them as much as we can. That's kind of one of the pieces that we expect to support from a technology perspective.

Another activity that, through one of our scientists we've been collaborating with, Durham Regional Police Services have been working on an app. We received a grant from Provincial Ministry of Labor, and we've worked on creating an app for the Durham Regional Police Services to bring together all mental health services and the programs available to them. Installing the app on their phone with a few clicks, they are able to access that information; because we know first responders are also being impacted from a mental health perspective. Whether it's the pandemic or even pre-pandemic. Through this technology, we're really helping them to have better access and information at their hand to support them. I don't know if you're aware, but we have partnered with Wounded Warriors Canada and created a first responders assist program to really serve the psychological needs of those first responders or public safety personnel. This very much aligns with some of that work that we're doing as well. 

Then the other piece that we’re just starting to explore a little bit is around an app called Breaking Free which is an evidence-based digital behavior change program that delivers cognitive behavior therapy for substance use disorders, looking at how we support our patients and our community to use this app. Recognizing access to care sometimes is very long for people. Technologies can really help support by providing them with augmented supports while they're waiting for direct supports. Sometimes, in our e-therapies, we have it at Ontario Shores for some of our mild to moderate diagnoses. We see people getting positively impacted by using e-therapies as much as they would have by seeing face-to-face therapies. We know there’s a lot of value in these technologies and exploring to understand better what works for the people that we’re serving.

Christine: There's been a big move to some of these digital apps and the EHRs can be the framework, but it's not everything for care so these kind of extend more into the consumer arm. Getting an app in front of these frontline workers really probably helps to navigate and get people help that they need quickly. 

Sanaz: Absolutely, yes.

Christine: For anyone looking to enter the mental health field, or to be a nurse or have a nurse informatics career, what are some insights or advice you can share? Is it any different in Canada than any other country? 

Sanaz: Nursing, we know there's a big shortage. We know that we need more nurses. I think, since the pandemic, that has heightened internationally. I really advocate for people who are thinking about a career in nursing to really explore it and connect with nurses, connect with healthcare professionals, to better understand it, because I think nursing is an exciting field where you can start off doing Direct Care nursing and a variety of specialties. You have opportunities in different areas and different learnings that you can gain; but you can also do different types of roles. For example, you can go into Administration, you can go down the Quality route or Risk Enterprise route. There's the different Academic route, etc. I think it gives you a lot of variety. That would be my plug for nursing career folks who are thinking about it. 

For mental health, there's a stigma out there, even within the nursing profession, about going into the mental health field. When I was in nursing school, a while ago now, I certainly heard those first-hand myself. I really want to take that myth away. I think, personally, I've done critical care in the past, and have done medsurge in the past, and now being in my career in mental health, mental health is a very challenging field to be in. It's not one that's an easy field. Mental health nursing requires you not only to be competent and have skills around the physical assessments, what you also have to understand is the psychology piece of every diagnosis and the different approaches that we need to have. I think that, in and of itself, is not easy but one that I think could be really fruitful to supporting a vulnerable population that really needs a lot of support. I would say, the mental health specialty has been an afterthought in healthcare for a very long time, and one that would require lots of folks to come in and help and really encourage folks. 

From an academic perspective, there's opportunities for us to bolster mental health streams, specialties, and expertise, and really encourage those in academia to advocate for that as well because we know the prevalence of mental illness is so high. One in five people experience mental illness or come in contact with someone really close to them. So with that significant prevalence, whether you're actually working in a mental health specialty or not, you're going to come in contact with people that are struggling with mental illness. Those skills become so important; really the nursing curriculum needs to revitalize, to really bolster the stream of mental health. 

Then lastly I would say, from an informatics perspective certainly, I think this is a newer field in nursing and in health and one that's exciting. It's a bit different than the US landscape because in the US there is an incentive based on the paying model, as well as some of the mandates around implementing EHRs, and some of those milestones that hospitals need to meet at certain times. That doesn’t exist in Canada nor in Ontario. It's an organization's prerogative to implement an EHR and advance it to whatever levels that they feel is important to them. I see the value in that. Although many organizations are now doing that, nursing informatics, it is becoming more and more important to hospitals to hire nurses in the informatics role. But the education is still not, I would say, readily available at every kind of academic institution. There are far and few between the opportunities for us to also enhance those, but I think it is one that also has many opportunities to influence the health care system in a way that we haven't done in the past, from a nursing profession field. That's exciting.

Christine:  I have to say, mental health in itself, really what you guys do is make a positive impact on the community. I can see that you have a lot of passion in this industry, and that comes through as we're speaking today. 

I want to thank you very much for joining me. I usually end my podcast with a fun question. This time I actually, before we got on the air, I was talking to you and found out that you gave birth about five months before the pandemic arrived. Can you share with us any funny stories about being locked down with a baby?

Sanaz:  This is our first child. We're both a little older in our ages. We thought, we've got this! Now we went into a lockdown, and we had no support. It was just us, managing our son who is energetic and wild and curious and climbing. You know, he's now climbing everything and jumping off of everything. Those first for us I think now are very funny, where we tried to feed him food for the first time and it landed everywhere on the floor. There's lots of those scenarios but I also have to say my heart goes out to folks. I laugh about it now, I think, because we all get through it somehow. I think we have to make fun of those times in order to kind of survive. These are challenging times for parents. It's been a lovely journey with lots of hiccups and lots of interesting times for sure.

Christine:  I'm sure you added to your sense of humor during this time as well so that's good. I would like to thank you very much, Sanaz. I think this is a very important area to talk about around mental health. I do applaud everything that you guys are doing within your organization to continue to advance. I know you're a stage seven HIMSS program, and the first in Canada to reach stage seven, so it just goes to show the quality of your organization and really your commitment to healthcare in general. 

Sanaz: Thank you so much.