This panel at HIMSS21 APAC focused on the role of digital tools in addressing issues around mental health and driving better outcomes.
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The effects of lockdowns, social isolation, lack of connectivity, as well as unemployment and inequities during the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly affected people’s mental health. Fortunately, there have been increasing efforts to find new ways in approaching mental health.
Key stakeholders from communities to governments to investors are recognising the importance of supporting mental health through initiatives around self-health management and allotting investments in new mental health technologies.
During the Mental Health panel at HIMSS21 APAC Conference, Bruce Steinberg, managing director and EVP of HIMSS United Kingdom, spoke with Daniel Fung, CEO of the Institute of Mental Health in Singapore, who shared his insights around digital health’s role in mental health.
The session also featured demonstrations of the Emotion AI software by Opsis CEO Andrew Ow and mobile mental health app Intellect by CEO Theodoric Chew, two examples of digital health innovations that seek to address pressing mental health issues and help drive better outcomes.
Fung talked about the use of digital tools in addressing mental illness and mental health problems – the former which is a disease afflicting certain portions of the population and the latter which is stress-driven and in the present case, pandemic-induced.
For example, Singapore’s upcoming online portal for mental health resources, a project under the Health Promotion Board, is said to mainly target the overall mental health of the general population. It is more about awareness, mental health literacy, promotion of mental health and mental health illness prevention through education.
But Fung differentiated such online tools from “digital mental health systems that [are dealing] with illnesses, [those trying to] improve surveillance or do interventions”.
It is not clear for now whether there is traction with digital tools for mental health although the younger population, who are usually afflicted with the onset of mental illnesses, are quite adept in using modern technologies. “They are born in the digital [era] and they are quite comfortable,” Fung noted.
“But we also have mental health and mental illness issues in the working adult population and the elderly,” Fung stressed, referring to people who are digital migrants or refugees who are not technologically literate.
Additionally, with a number of applications available for mental health, people tend to “drop off” their usage, “unless there are some motivating factors” to continue using them. “Traction is always dependent on the comfort level as well as its convenience,” he claimed.
In maintaining engagement with mental health patients via telehealth platforms, Fung said care providers must change the way they connect with patients, citing examples such as patients who sought online consultations while in the restaurant or driving a car.
For him, there must be rules that both doctor and patient will abide by. Clinicians, too, he said, need to undergo training to conduct remote consultations. At present, the Ministry of Health in Singapore is starting out some initiatives to standardise online consultations with doctors. “[Teleconsultations] could possibly be better than a typical face-to-face, traditional consult,” Fung commented.