Although improvements have been made in mental health care in recent years, the topic can still be seen as quite taboo. All around 300 million people worldwide suffer from depression, and suicide is considered the second leading cause of death among young people. Mental health disorders are considered to be one of the largest causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide, costing the global economy around 16 trillion dollars by 2030
Most of these illnesses are treatable, but approximately two-thirds of people who experience mental health problems go undiagnosed. The recent development of technology and its disruption in the life sciences space, combined with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the population physically and mentally, has led to the need for solutions that go above and beyond.
Electronic clinical outcome assessments (eCOAs) and decentralized clinical trials (DCTs) are advancing mental health research and driving better patient engagement by allowing participants to participate in clinical trials on their own terms. Virtual participation can alleviate the anxiety of many participants and allows for a more inclusive, diverse and comprehensive study. The rapid proliferation of smartphones, wearable sensors and digital health tools offers new opportunities to expand access to mental health care. The destigmatization and fairer treatment of mental and physical health is a catalyst for more research in this area, but the heavily patient-reported outcomes (PR) nature of mental health research requires innovation in how we collect and report insights.
Removing barriers through technology
While the stigma surrounding mental health still exists, it has become much more widely accepted and publicly discussed and acknowledged with the rise of social media, as well as celebrities and prominent figures speaking out about their own struggles with mental illness. Along with this societal growth, several advances in healthcare and research have come together to potentially improve the way we investigate and treat these conditions. The healthcare industry is moving broadly toward centering the patient experience of care through more PROs and making trials more accessible through hybrid and remote trials. Technology is becoming an integral part of the advancement of all types of clinical research, and for mental health in particular, these changes uniquely serve to improve the quality of life for sufferers and help support more holistic research.
During the pandemic, mental health care seeking has become more accessible via smartphone and portable devices with telehealth and mobile app-based health care allowing participants more options they need to manage their conditions, for which they may be reluctant to seek personal help such as anxiety and depression. Traditionally, it has been difficult for health professionals and researchers to assess the health of participants due to the lack of regular assessments. The regular use of eCOA technology allows healthcare professionals and researchers to now be able to collect valuable data about the health of participants in order to treat them effectively while keeping the patient experience in mind.
Empowering mental health care through eCOA
Adopting an eCOA can help advance the way we conduct mental health research by efficiently and electronically capturing PROs to better understand the specific needs of participants and how to address them. The ongoing adoption of eCOA is a natural step in an industry-wide effort to improve patient focus. eCOA tools reduce the burden on participants while improving the quality and quantity of information captured during their treatment. They also amplify the participant’s salient symptoms—such as how they feel physically and mentally, making it easier for caregivers to manage their care.
- Minimizing patient burden: By giving participants the freedom to complete assessments on their own schedule and from the comfort of their homes through Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) technology, it can reduce the burden. This opens up options to record and post their responses more easily and without making so many personal visits. There is also the added benefit of flexible scheduling with BYOD, allowing participants to seamlessly fit these assessments into their lives without disrupting their daily routines. Other possibilities include potential access to caregivers and support systems for participants who have different circumstances.
- Better engagement: To better understand and maintain participant engagement, sponsors can greatly benefit from the on-demand electronic data collected by ePRO. Using ePRO, sponsors can incorporate any personal participant feedback into the research environment, ultimately supporting the patient experience. The use of eCOA technologies can also facilitate better time management for participants by integrating tasks with daily life. In addition, using the benefits of ePRO technology, such as translation services, can support mental health disorders by providing a wider scope for coverage and a comprehensive understanding of the most appropriate assessments for mental health problems. This can reduce the noise and improve the estimation result and reduce the number of unnecessary log entries.
- Overall efficiency: The overall effectiveness of trials can help bring new drugs to market more quickly. By improving the exchange of information between patients and providers, ePROs can open up the possibility of positively impacting participants’ care for serious mental health conditions such as depression, suicidal ideation, and substance use. In addition, ePROs enable improved data quality and less bias in the overall analysis, as well as drug labeling in the event of adverse events or contingencies.
Creating a holistic patient experience
Looking ahead, the adoption of eCOA technology in mental health research could lead to major advances in the care of mental health patients. eCOA and digital health tools were well suited to the rapid growth of changes in virtual and telehealth during the Covid-19 pandemic, and there is no going back. These tools will continue to be an important part of the healthcare ecosystem moving forward and can help break new barriers in mental health research—ultimately creating a more holistic patient experience.
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