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An Interview with Dr Andy Blackwell: hope is on the horizon for mental health care

Author: Jordan Taylor

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This week (14th – 20th May 2018), the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) is recognising #mentalhealthawarenessweek. In response, we interviewed portfolio member and CSO of IESO Digital, Andy Blackwell.

As part of a survey with over 4,500 participants, the MHF discovered that 28 percent of those between the ages of 18 to 38 said they felt more strain at work in comparison to their baby boomer colleagues, expressing that working through highly stressful environments was an everyday norm.

Further to this, Theresa May has been pressured by a group of MPs, calling for a commission proposing money-raising measures for the UK’s crumbling health and social care system. A letter containing 21 signatories urges the prime minister to establish a yearlong “parliamentary commission”, duplicating the tactics taken during the banking bailouts.

Can technology provide a solution to the increase in mental health demand seen by the NHS? We interviewed portfolio member Dr Andy Blackwell, Chief Scientific Officer at IESO digital health. Andy gained a doctorate in psychology from the University of St Andrews before working as a medical research scientist in world-leading laboratories in the departments of psychiatry and experimental psychology at the University of Cambridge.

What role can technology play in accelerating mental health solutions?

Technology and clinical data science are transforming the accessibility and quality of mental healthcare. The most basic point is that technology enables patients to access care whenever and wherever they need it. Often people are unable to access care due to stigma, physical disability or specific mental health (MH) issues. Technology brings high quality care closer to the patient and can help to break down many of these barriers.

Technology is enabling mental healthcare to be quality controlled for the first time. Involving a computer in the interaction between patient and care provider enables IESO to monitor the quality of care delivery continuously and to encourage (and facilitate) adherence to best clinical practice. Using data science, we are learning what works for every therapeutic interaction across the whole network – and disseminating these learnings so that all patients benefit.

We believe that high quality mental healthcare should be available to anyone, whenever and wherever they need it. Technology is a critical enabler in making this a reality.

How do you attract the best therapists?

High quality therapists are key to our success, and we have worked hard to understand what matters to them. We have built a reputation for delivering world-class continuing professional development and clinical supervision. This is unlike anything our providers can access in conventional private practice or the health service, and our therapists tell us they value this. For a provider, working with IESO also means being part of a large community of like-minded practitioners and enjoying the flexibility to take appointments whenever and wherever they chose. Providing a flexible and collaborative approach to working together, with a continuous learning environment, seems to be key to attracting the best therapists to join our community.

What are the challenges unique to building a business which centres on mental health?

Most health systems, including the NHS, provide access to MH treatment for only 10-15% of those who could benefit. This paucity of care would not be accepted for any other health condition, and we are determined to play our part in redressing this. Our key challenge is to scale quickly enough to address the enormous unmet clinical need.

What is the future of mental health?

High-quality care, available to all, on demand.

At IESO we believe now is the time to harness the power of technology to reach out to millions of people across the world experiencing common MH difficulties. We believe in a world where patients should have a choice in how and when they access MH treatment. A world in which no one has the access, quality and speed of treatments dictated by their financial status or postcode.

We believe that technology can support the creation of health care systems capable of delivering accountable and transparent MH care with the potential to free up resources and produce cost savings across the wider health economy. We believe that technology enables us to learn from every interaction with every patient and discover ‘what works’ to continuously improve outcomes for patients.

IESO digital health is a platform which improves the accessibility, affordability and quality of healthcare for people with mental health conditions through the unison of People, Process and Technology. It enables therapists to deliver cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to patients in real-time through written conversation online, using a secure virtual therapy room. Therapy is confidential and discreet, accessible via a computer, tablet or smartphone.

At Draper, we are proud to be supporting companies such as IESO, which is fighting to improve the quality of care for patients suffering from mental health conditions, making it affordable and accessible to all. We believe that by backing teams of world-class people who are passionate the about ideas that make a real difference to the quality of people’s wellbeing, will make a happy and healthy, global community.