Community mental health staff spend hours updating notes, often at the end of long shifts. Transforming information capture could reduce staff burnout and improve patient outcomes, writes Epro’s Kat Hancock

NHS mental health services have always been stretched but following the rise in demand driven by the pandemic, mental health practitioners are now enduring unmanageable pressure. Far too many community mental health staff spend hours updating patient notes, requesting medication changes and creating referral letters – often at the end of 12-hour shifts. In addition to the risk of staff burnout, delays in updating information and requesting urgent services are inevitable, as are potential errors, causing significant risks to patient safety.

The recent surge in demand arrived when mental health services were already in crisis, with workforce shortages affecting staff workload, wellbeing and the ability to provide good quality of care. The day-to-day reality for mental health staff is incredibly challenging. A community mental health provider can expect to see seven or eight patients each day, many experiencing serious mental illness. It can be difficult to take notes during the patient interaction, for example due to the need to maintain eye contact. As a result, staff are compelled to write brief notes in the car between visits, prior to updating information on the system later in the day when they are back in the office.

Immediate mobile data capture

While there is no quick or easy solution to the shortage of trained staff or available mental health beds, significant improvements in the day-to-day experience of both staff and patients are achievable.

An intuitive, mobile solution using voice recognition that allows mental health clinicians to update notes, request changes to medication and create referral letters either while with the patient or straight afterwards, can radically reduce the time spent on administrative tasks.

Information is recorded verbally, which is much quicker; and requests for additional services and support are processed immediately, avoiding unacceptable delays. Critically, patient information is up to date and, with direct integration to the EPR or other legacy system, all health providers, from acute services to GPs, have immediate visibility of a patient’s current status. This is particularly important for patients experiencing both mental and physical illness.

A patient presenting at either primary or secondary care may be unwilling or unable to share their mental health status with clinicians. This can lead to both confusion over treatment priorities and, critically, potential contra-indications with medication, risking patient safety.

Improving staff and patient wellbeing

Transforming the ease and timeliness of patient information capture is a vital step in addressing the gaps in care services through which vulnerable patients still fall, especially when mental health trusts often cover two, even three, different Integrated Care Systems (ICS).

Patients with mental health issues also often end up at A&E, where access to information is incredibly valuable in determining the best course of action.

An individual with mental health issues can be flagged on the system, ensuring that A&E staff will immediately look for information on the latest medication and referral history, helping to rapidly assess if an injury has been caused accidentally or as a result of a mental health crisis. Child protection issues can be highlighted. Patients with a history of dangerous behaviour can also be flagged, providing additional safeguards for staff.

Ease of Innovation

Critically, this change can be achieved at low cost. Mental health services remain underfunded; there is no money for huge EPR solutions. Instead, a purpose-designed mobile solution using custom voice dictionaries to achieve high levels of voice recognition accuracy can drastically reduce the time spent by staff updating information. With no need to return to the office to update information, staff can avoid working extra unpaid hours, removing some of the pressure that can contribute to burnout.

The ease of integration with any existing technology to deliver a single source of patient information can transform the day-to-day experience of mental health staff. This is a key requirement when the NHS is facing its own mental health crisis – sick days for mental ill health within the NHS increased significantly during 2022.

Further, this model also provides a vital foundation for improved information sharing across the wider healthcare community. The NHS can only evolve towards the goal of joined-up care if GPs, A&E, ICSs, social services, and third space support services all have accurate, up-to-date patient information. Nowhere is this more valuable than in mental health, where many service users have complex, long term problems, managed by multiple parties.

Kat HancockKat Hancock is business development director at Epro