Digital healthcare has become an important tool in the age of Covid-19 and Inspire is well placed to drive its continuing evolution, writes our Digital Services Executive and PhD researcher, Gillian Cameron.
Remote interventions in the healthcare field are by no means a Covid-era phenomenon. Digital self-help guides, telephone counselling and GP video appointments were useful elements within the sector prior to the onset of the pandemic, offering pathways better suited to need and easing the strain on an already stressed system, at least to some degree.
However, the changes to our lives necessitated by the outbreak of a novel coronavirus in 2020 accelerated the evolution of this corner of the online space and rendered it an essential component of treatment and support. This was especially true for mental health.
From generalised clinical settings to workplaces, digital healthcare offers potentially low-cost, efficient and scalable solutions. It continues to play a large role in our post-lockdown world, providing people with flexibility and ease of use, as well as an added sense of confidentiality and privacy. Significant portions of our lives are already spent on the internet and it’s hardly surprising, therefore, that a person’s health needs should also be addressed there.
In this context, things like cognitive behavioural therapy, stress management and mindfulness-based stress reduction courses have all shown promise. Indeed, it’s necessary to reconsider how a variety of care models might be integrated with web assets.
There are drawbacks, of course. The digital divide, already a challenge prior to the arrival of Covid-19, became more pronounced when much of daily life retreated behind a computer screen. Lots of people don’t own laptops, tablets or smart phones; they can’t connect to the internet. Others simply won’t engage with online resources. For those who do make use of these, there is a risk that they convince themselves, and the people around them, that they’ve done enough to address any issues they may have, even if, in reality, they require more targeted and sustained assistance.
The upsides, on the other hand, are undeniably exciting. Given the ongoing advances in technological capabilities, alongside digital health standards and regulation, Inspire is routinely presented with opportunities to excel. Our social enterprise, Therapeutic and Wellbeing Services, provides a range of interventions and training programmes, all of which are designed to help organisations, employees and students thrive. To do this, we deploy our expertise in stages. Firstly, all Therapeutic and Wellbeing Services customers – along with Inspire staff and the people using services managed by our charity arm – enjoy full access to the award-winning Inspire Support Hub.
A key part of our work, the Hub promotes physical, emotional and mental wellbeing through knowledge and learning. It equips users with tools and guidance that they can employ to monitor how they’re feeling and take action when necessary.
Over 11,000 individuals have signed up to the Hub since it first launched in 2019 and, during that time, they’ve logged in excess of 36,000 annual interactions. Three years ago, as the Covid-19 lockdowns took effect, the numbers using the website doubled.
Last year, to ensure that Inspire continues to showcase the latest innovations in digital wellbeing, we undertook a piece of research to determine the challenges people faced in utilising the Hub and the most effective methods of enhancing our services.
In April, having collated and analysed our findings, we rolled out the new version of this vital platform. Alongside aesthetic updates, we added fresh features to improve usability and accessibility. Crucially, clinically proven and evidence-led information sits at the heart of it all.
We know that our digital content complements and signposts to existing support. And it is at this point that the second strand of our stepped-care model comes into play. To ensure that the right help is available at the right time, we also focus on promoting our counselling services to all customers.
We are committed to this blended approach of digital and in-person care. If someone needs to speak to a professional counsellor, then they can do so. Indeed, we always encourage people to consider going down that route.
This continuum is Inspire’s unique selling point. Our web-based resources are often sufficient for people concerned about their own wellbeing but they are far from the end point. They are, instead, a gateway to more help.
To find out more about the Inspire Support Hub, as well as the other services offered by Inspire, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was first published in the most recent issue of NI Healthcare Review.