Adaptation of a Digital Health Innovation to Prevent Relapse and Support Recovery in Youth Receiving Services for First-Episode Psychosis: Results From the Horyzons-Canada Phase 1 Study

JMIR Form Res. 2020 Oct 29;4(10):e19887. doi: 10.2196/19887.


Background: Developing a digital health innovation can require a substantial amount of financial and human resource investment before it can be scaled for implementation across geographical, cultural, and health care contexts. As such, there is an increased interest in leveraging eHealth innovations developed and tested in one country or jurisdiction and using these innovations in local settings. However, limited knowledge exists on the processes needed to appropriately adapt digital health innovations to optimize their transferability across geographical, cultural, and contextual settings.

Objective: We report on the results of an adaptation study of Horyzons, a digital health innovation originally developed and tested in Australia. Horyzons is designed to prevent relapses and support recovery in young people receiving services for first-episode psychosis (FEP). The aim of this study is to assess the initial acceptability of Horyzons and adapt it in preparation for pilot testing in Canada.

Methods: This research took place in 2 specialized early intervention clinics for FEP, located in 1 urban and 1 urban-rural setting, in 2 Canadian provinces. A total of 26 participants were recruited: 15 clinicians (age range 26-56 years) and 11 patients (age range 19-37 years). Following the digital health adaptation framework developed by our team, we used a mixed methods approach, combining descriptive quantitative and qualitative methods across 3 stages of data collection (focus groups, interviews, and consultations), analysis, and adaptations.

Results: Overall, patients and clinicians appreciated the strengths-based approach and social media features of Horyzons. However, participants expressed concerns related to implementation, especially in relation to capacity (eg, site moderation, crisis management, internet speed in rural locations). They also provided suggestions for adapting content and features, for example, in relation to community resources, volume of text, universal accessibility (eg, for individuals with limitations in vision), and optimization of platform accessibility through mobile devices. Additional aspects of the innovation were flagged for adaptation during the final stages of preparing it for live implementation. These included terms of use, time zone configuration to reflect local time and date, safety and moderation protocols, the need help now feature, and the list of trigger words to flag posts indicative of potential risk.

Conclusions: In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and public health guidelines for social distancing, there is an increasing interest and need to leverage the internet and mobile technologies for delivering youth mental health services. As countries look to one another for guidance on how to navigate changing social dynamics, knowledge on how to utilize and adapt existing innovations across contexts is now more important than ever. Using a systematic approach, this study illustrates the methods, processes, results, and lessons learned on adapting a digital health innovation to enhance its local acceptability.

International registered report identifier (irrid): RR2-10.2196/resprot.8810.

Keywords: cultural adaptation; e-health; e-mental health; mental health; mental health services; mobile phone; psychotic disorders; schizophrenia; telemedicine; virtual care; young adult.