The Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care (the Commission) has just released Australia’s first National Safety and Quality Digital Mental Health (NSQDMH) Standards. Implementation of these standards will ensure a nationally consistent level of care for people who use digital mental health services.
Digital mental health refers to services that target mental health problems using online or mobile technologies. Services may be delivered via telephone, videoconferencing, web-based programs, SMS, or mobile health applications (apps). One of the advantages of this type of delivery method is the ability to reach people quickly. This may be of particular benefit in historically underserved populations, such as rural and low socioeconomic areas. Other potential advantages include improved patient autonomy and improved collaboration by digitally linking multiple professionals to the same patient. For many patients, digital interventions can be as effective as face-to-face therapy. In addition, the improved overall efficiency of these services may also free up resources so that healthcare professionals can dedicate more time to more severe cases.
The Commission states that the primary goal of the NSQDMH Standards is to “improve the quality of digital mental health service provision and to protect service users, and where relevant, their support people, from harm.” Further information and guidance is available on the Commission’s website to support the implementation of these standards in clinical practice.
The three NSQDMH Standards are:
- Clinical and Technical Governance Standard
Service providers are encouraged to implement a clinical and technical governance framework to ensure that the services provided are person-centred, safe and effective. Good clinical and technical governance ensures that all members of the healthcare team are accountable and deliver high-quality digital mental health services.
- Partnering with Consumers Standard
Effective partnerships with consumers are important as the evidence suggests this is associated with improvements in clinical outcomes, adherence to therapy, functional status, and the delivery of preventive care services. Service providers are encouraged to communicate with users in a way that is appropriate for their level of health and digital literacy. This partnership ensures that services are relevant, usable and accessible.
- Model of Care Standard
Establishing a model of care for each digital mental health service is crucial to ensure the delivery of safe, high-quality care while also minimising the risk of harm. There are a number of inherent risks with a remote model of care. For example, body language changes and other subtle cues that may indicate potential risk are often not available to the service provider. To overcome this issue, the model of care should incorporate risk screening and also take a systematic approach to recognise and respond to the early signs of deterioration.
There has been a significant increase in the use of digital mental health services over the past decade. This year, the demand for remote services has continued to grow due to COVID-19. While there is a large range of digital mental health resources available in Australia, it can be challenging to navigate the system. e-Mental Health in Practice (eMHprac) is a government-funded project that aims to raise awareness and knowledge of these programs. A directory of publicly funded, evidence-based digital health programs is available on their website. They also offer online and face-to-face training opportunities for service providers.
- Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care. National Safety and Quality Digital Mental Health Standards. Sydney: ACSQHC; 2020.
- Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care. National Safety and Quality Health Service Standard 2: Partnering with Consumers – Embedding partnerships in health care. Sydney: ACSQHC, 2014.