Digital technology is altering every aspect of our lives, and mental health is no exception. Although the new waiting time targets introduced last week aiming for 75% of patients to receive face-to-face therapy within six weeks and 95% of patients within 18 weeks is welcome, there is much technology can do to significantly reduce waiting times and improve access to patients suffering depression and anxiety.
Here at Ieso Digital Health we enable patients to start a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) sessions days, rather than weeks. That means patients can start to benefit almost instantly from one-to-one interactive therapy through written communication with a qualified therapist online via a smartphone, tablet or computer.
Our therapists are all accredited by the British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy (BABCP), and have at least three years’ experience.
Our service aims to break down the stigma surrounding the search for mental health treatment by offering treatment in a secure online virtual therapy room. One-to-one therapy delivered online is flexible, meets demand for ‘out of office hours’ appointments and widens access to mental health services, particularly for those with mobility issues or find the whole idea of discussing their most private thoughts with a stranger in person too off-putting.
The Ieso Digital Health internet-enabled therapy service provides a comfortable environment for patients dealing with common mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.
It allows patients to access CBT at any time– with no waiting lists and, in some areas of the UK, without having to visit a GP practice or mental health clinic (self-referral online).
We are the only large-scale provider of internet-enabled therapy in the UK and we have already been commissioned in 26 NHS CCGs and partner trusts. We are already treating close to 1,000 patients per month, with this number steadily increasing.
Our model has the potential to dramatically increase access for a number of reasons.
- It improves take-up. Where self-referral is on offer, people can start treatment without the need to speak to their GP. Take West Kent for example, where a leaflet encouraging patients to self-refer was mailed to 80,000 households. The campaign generated a 400% increase in referrals to Ieso Digital Health, with 90% choosing to self-refer.
- It reduces access-waiting times. While waiting targets for NHS therapy now have an upper target of 18 weeks, we aim to assign patients a therapist within 48 hours.
- It improves attendance. Face-to-face therapy works well for many patients, but for some it creates barriers. If you work you may not get an appointment at a suitable time, and if you are immobile or live in a remote location, you may be physically unable to attend your appointment. If you are nervous of revealing painful feelings to a stranger face-to-face, you may also fail to turn up.
- Our model allows patients to have their sessions at a time and place of their choice – curled up on the sofa after the evening news, for example. Patient and therapist never see each other in person, making it a less daunting prospect.
- Online therapy through our model can actually be more effective – 52% of our patients achieve recovery compared to 45% of talking therapies nationally. They also achieve recovery in half the number of sessions, on average. This is because the method disinhibits patients (online disinhibition effect) making them more likely to disclose personal information openly and candidly. It also provides an opportunity for more embedded learning than face-to-face CBT due to the method of learning by reading and writing rather than speaking and listening. Additionally, transcripts of therapy sessions are available to the patient, allowing the patient to refer back to it as often as he or she likes.
- Coupled with the lower infrastructure costs of online therapy, this means it is more cost-effective and therefore can be provided to more people.
Here at Ieso Digital Health we aim not just improve access, but to transform it. We hope our model will be rolled out more widely across the NHS to increase access to mental health treatment across the board.