With the new 1 December 2020 Mental Health Act legislation quickly creeping up on us, it is worth being aware of why these changes are happening and what the benefits are to you as a professional and, of course, your patients.

Thalamos has always believed digitisation of the pink paper forms will support patients in receiving access to care more swiftly, simply and safely. Digitisation can make the process easier and quicker for the healthcare professional enabling them to deliver a more personal and human service to the service user.

However, we strongly believe it is pointless to create a digital process without providing a care quality improvement. So, what are the actual benefits of going digital?

Provides the patient with swifter access to care

Digitising Mental Health Act forms can reduce a really drawn out process, providing an individual with much swifter access to care. According to Carla Fourie, Director of Social Care at South London & Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, currently there is a lot of unnecessary waiting. Waiting for an ambulance, waiting to get the right information, waiting for the police and so on. By the time that person is admitted, several hours or even several days have passed. Not a pleasant experience for someone already suffering a decline in their mental health.

Digital forms may be submitted ahead of patients. This means that care plans may be decided before the patient arrives resulting in better care.

Our pilot with the Care Quality Commission (CQC) second opinion appointed doctors (SOADs) has resulted in patient waiting times reducing significantly. This is from an average of 7 days to 29 hours between June and August and then to just 15 hours in September and October. This demonstrates a clear quality improvement.

Efficient and quicker

Digital Mental Health Act forms are known to be more efficient and quicker to complete than their paper counterparts. Technology can help free up doctor or AMHP time spent unnecessarily, helping them serve their patients better. In fact, this is something acknowledged in the legislation itself:

“These changes are being made because developments in information technology allow for integrated and secure information systems in the NHS, which serve patients by keeping relevant clinical information about them so that services can respond to the needs of patients quickly and appropriately. Such systems have the potential in this case to help professionals follow the requirements of the Act in ways that do not use their time unnecessarily, for example by waiting to receive signed paper forms.”

On Thalamos, some of the information such as your name, address and signature can be pre-populated. This saves you rewriting them every time. Once you have completed the form you can still review the information in the pink form format if you prefer.

A big advantage of the paper method is that it is easily shareable across institutional boundaries, which digital systems don’t always allow. Thalamos was aware of this from the outset. We have therefore made our software interoperable across institutions without compromising security, nor confidentiality.

Reduction in errors

Common errors associated with paper forms include the wrong hospital being listed, dates being omitted, illegible handwriting and unlawful detentions. A case study undertaken by Thalamos estimates on average 10 unlawful detentions per trust per year. Although many trusts don’t record this information. The majority of these were a result of basic errors on admission paperwork and lost forms. Digitisation won’t eradicate all errors or unlawful detentions. However, it can improve the process for mental healthcare professionals and in turn, the experience of the service user.

Thalamos has reduced the opportunity for errors by creating a user experience which supports you in completing MHA forms correctly. Highlighting areas where errors might occur and offering best practice guidance.

This includes the following features:

  • Basic functions of the process such as dates and times are auto-populated for you.
  • Shared AMHP inbox for pre-approved users in case a different AMHP picks up the case.
  • Best practice tips for open-ended questions to assist you in completing the form.

Sent securely and safely

On Thalamos, digital Mental Health Act forms are sent securely to an assigned recipient through a time-limited, encrypted link. This means it can only be accessed by the person intended to review it. It also omits the risk of the form getting lost in transit or falling into the wrong hands whilst travelling between medical staff.

Easier access to data

With paper, there are many reporting challenges. These include having to manually enter data into spreadsheets and not knowing if all data is being entered which calls into question the data’s integrity and accuracy.

With a digital process it is much easier to store and analyse all data. What’s more, data can be shared across institutional boundaries which is a current restriction of the paper process. This data can be used to spot trends and identify care quality improvements.

Are there any disadvantages to going digital?

A concern of mental healthcare professionals is that digitisation might alienate marginalised groups. However, a recent Accenture survey suggests 87% of patients believe the care they have received during Covid was as good if not better than before. Also, it is important to remember that we are mainly digitising the process for the professional. The process for the service user may not change that much, except they should receive more face-to-face time from the professional.

The takeaway about the impact of digitisation is that, if used to its full potential, it can help service users access the care they need more swiftly, simply and safely. Making the process easier for an already overstretched mental healthcare workforce is paramount to its success. However any change to the MHA, digital or not, must put the service user at the centre. If there is no quality care improvement, then there is no point in making the change. In other words we don’t want to replicate existing flaws and digitise for the sake of digitising.

Visit thalamos.co.uk/1december for everything you need to know regarding this legislative change.