Is virtual care the way forward?


Each year 1 in 4 of us experiences a mental health problem such as anxiety and depression, and 1 in 100 of us will also suffer with severe mental health issues. Mental Health services are facing ever-increasing financial pressures alongside a marked increase in demand for their services. How are Internet-based resources and digital technologies being used to deliver valuable therapeutic interventions to more people cost-effectively, whilst not compromising on quality?


Digital technology has impacted greatly on our lives today, with 74% of households online. The Internet and digital technologies present an innovative solution to pressures on mental health services. Such online provision is doing more than just plugging a gap,  it is changing the way we interact with health care. Today’s health care consumers are more diverse, more informed and more demanding than ever before. We are used to instant access 24/7, and a wide choice of online resources and services, something face-to-face healthcare simply can’t keep up with.


Online mental health support is being used to help improve the mental health of the nation by enabling a cultural shift in how we can access information and care, and how active a role we can play in caring for our mental health. Digital technologies are allowing for a building of services never offered before that connect us to others; they are giving access to a vast range of experience and opinion from peers and professionals; and importantly this normalises caring for our mental health and helps to reduce the stigmas suffered around mental health. Online mental health provision is also alleviating pressure on frontline services, widening access to existing provision, improving use of face-to-face services, bridging gaps in services, informing, signposting and providing evidence-based tools for self-help.


Self-help and self-care are dominant themes in all national frameworks for healthcare. Not only do they offer the best possibility for reducing demand and therefore costs to the NHS but crucially increase choice, control and personalization of care for us.


Here we highlight some of the innovative services and resources that deliver effective and evidence-based interventions to empower people to take an active role in their health and wellbeing.


Headspace promotes the benefits of building mindfulness and meditation into our daily lives. Research tells us regular practice of mindfulness can bring many benefits such as managing stress, pain, anxiety and low mood. Headspace’s website and app provides varied time limited (2-60-minutes) and themed sessions to suit individual’s lifestyles and needs. Subscription allows an individual to map their journey, track progress, receive awards along the way, and the ability to ‘buddy up’ with others in the Headspace community to boost motivation.


Big White Wall offers a community of support from peers and professionals and provides a range of services for people in psychological distress, including managed talk boards, guided support programmes led by professionals, live therapy, clinical tests, tools for self expression and up-to-date information, articles and self-help guides.


Start2 is a free-to-use online NHS service. Comprising an evidence-based toolkit of over 100 unique guided resources, it melds mindfulness, creative therapies, creatively-inspired physical activities and occupational therapy.

Start2 users are guided by the online mentor, which makes up part of the ‘Wellbeing Thermometer.’ This is Start2’s unique adaptation of validated wellbeing measure the ‘Short Warwick and Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale’. The ‘Wellbeing Thermometer’ is an interactive tool central to Start2, giving users an easy way to navigate the resource and create personalized-programmes that target an individual’s needs. 


The question now is can digital healthcare keep up with need? Some might argue that digital healthcare isn’t growing as quickly as anticipated. How do we overcome this? Traditional offline services are not always best equipped to move into this new terriority and to keep up with improvements and changes to consumer digital technologies. Do public, third and private sector need to work together more to share skills and expertise?


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