New App to Help Predict and Prevent Suicide

An NHS mental health trust is collaborating with researchers in the United States in order to develop an app that may have a positive influence on suicide.

Liverpool-based Merseycare and Stanford University have been in talks on how the technology could work.

The aim of the two organisations is to produce a prototype by June of this year, with the aim to have the first patients monitored by the final application by January 2017.

Suicide remains a major killer in Britain, however there were 6,122 suicides in the UK in 2014; a 2% decrease on the year before.

The aim of the app is to enable clinicians and medics working in the NHS to provide 24-hour observations on people at risk of killing themselves.

In order to achieve this, the app will monitor all digital communications carried out by a patient, including emails, social media and phone calls.

This has led to criticism in some quarters that the app can be seen as a form of snooping, but it is worth noting that all patients must volunteer for the service.

Commenting on the development of the software, Dr David Fearnley, medical director at Merseycare, indicated that its potential is massive.

“We think we can anticipate people who may be likely to harm themselves with greater accuracy than we currently do, and therefore be able to do something about it and save their lives. This is an opportunity to exploit technology in a way we’ve never been able to before in health, by providing very powerful, decision-making, statistical support to clinicians in real time for the people who are most at risk.”

Merseycare has already made some very bold commitments with regard to suicide targets.

Just last year, the organisation indicated that it intends to instigate a zero suicide policy by the end of the decade, meaning that all suicides of service users will be prevented.

While the app is considered to be an important part of the process, numerous other initiatives will combine with the software in order to improve the way that suicide is handled.

The initiative requires a new approach across the trust, from staff training to greater patient involvement.

Five NHS trusts and hospitals in the United States have collaborated in the development of the app, creating new technology that will have a major influence over the prevention suicide in the future.

Indeed, the technology involved in the new application is already scanning data being inputted into the trusts in question, while also digitising and analysing it.

It is therefore already possible for the app to inform medics where danger signs are emerging for potentially suicidal patients.

Merseycare and Stanford are aiming for patients to start using the app in January 2017; its success will then be evaluated by outside experts over the following three years.


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