Using New and Innovative Technologies to Assess Clinical Stage in Early Intervention Youth Mental Health Services: Evaluation Study

J Med Internet Res. 2018 Sep 10;20(9):e259. doi: 10.2196/jmir.9966.


Background: Globally there is increasing recognition that new strategies are required to reduce disability due to common mental health problems. As 75% of mental health and substance use disorders emerge during the teenage or early adulthood years, these strategies need to be readily accessible to young people. When considering how to provide such services at scale, new and innovative technologies show promise in augmenting traditional clinic-based services.

Objective: The aim of this study was to test new and innovative technologies to assess clinical stage in early intervention youth mental health services using a prototypic online system known as the Mental Health eClinic (MHeC).

Methods: The online assessment within the MHeC was compared directly against traditional clinician assessment within 2 Sydney-based youth-specific mental health services (headspace Camperdown and headspace Campbelltown). A total of 204 young people were recruited to the study. Eligible participants completed both face-to-face and online assessments, which were randomly allocated and counterbalanced at a 1-to-3 ratio. These assessments were (1) a traditional 45- to 60-minute headspace face-to-face assessment performed by a Youth Access Clinician and (2) an approximate 60-minute online assessment (including a self-report Web-based survey, immediate dashboard of results, and a video visit with a clinician). All assessments were completed within a 2-week timeframe from initial presentation.

Results: Of the 72 participants who completed the study, 71% (51/72) were female and the mean age was 20.4 years (aged 16 to 25 years); 68% (49/72) of participants were recruited from headspace Camperdown and the remaining 32% (23/72) from headspace Campbelltown. Interrater agreement of participants' stage, as determined after face-to-face assessment or online assessment, demonstrated fair agreement (kappa=.39, P<.001) with concordance in 68% of cases (49/72). Among the discordant cases, those who were allocated to a higher stage by online raters were more likely to report a past history of mental health disorders (P=.001), previous suicide planning (P=.002), and current cannabis misuse (P=.03) compared to those allocated to a lower stage.

Conclusions: The MHeC presents a new and innovative method for determining key clinical service parameters. It has the potential to be adapted to varied settings in which young people are connected with traditional clinical services and assist in providing the right care at the right time.

Keywords: mental health; primary health care; staging model; symptom assessment health service reform; telemedicine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Early Intervention, Educational / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health Services / standards*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Technology Assessment, Biomedical / methods*
  • Young Adult