By Dr Gabriel Ma, Clinical Lead at BridgeHead Software

Mental health treatment pathways for patients are highly personalised and not one-size fits all. Often mental health professionals need to gain an overview of a patient’s medical history in order to understand the full picture. While this can be complex, accessing historical data provides the opportunity to analyse current behaviour and assess potential triggers in the context of the individual.

A patient’s medical records are made up of information from multiple sources and interactions over a wide range of time periods – even dating back to childhood. It’s key that mental health practitioners have access to comprehensive and historical patient data so that informed clinical decisions can be made.

Mental health is often approached using multi-disciplinary teams and support for patients is offered through a variety of methods. For instance, patients may speak to their GP, attend routine services led by other healthcare professionals or join sessions in community settings. For some patients, it might be difficult to divulge sensitive information about their history to new people; this could include prior episodes with risk to self or others. However, such information is crucial to informed decision making and highlights the benefit of having full access to all medical records pertaining to a patient. Not only does it offer a holistic view of care from one service to another, but it also helps clarify accountability – most importantly, it improves the quality of patient outcomes.

The patient data puzzle

We know it’s vital for mental health practitioners to access patient data, but how easy is it for them to do so? Currently, patient records are spread throughout disparate organisations in a combination of electronic and paper-based formats. And those electronic records can be themselves sprawled across many siloed systems that are not integrated or interoperable with neighbouring solutions. For instance, if a patient who lives in outer west London attends an Accident & Emergency Department in central London for the first time – it’s likely that summaries of long-term information would not be readily available to the practitioner currently treating them. Of course, relevant patient data will be stored with their primary healthcare provider, but it might not be easily accessible to others, meaning that a great deal of time and liaison will be required for the primary healthcare provider to compile and forward on the relevant information, as well as incorporate the data into a new set of medical records at each new healthcare organisation that comes into contact with the patient.  In the context of mental health, this means that healthcare practitioners are at the mercy of siloed data and disparate systems when it matters the most – in an emergency or out of hours.

Getting to grips with Independent Clinical Archives (ICA)

In order to overcome these challenges, there is a need for a single source for all data related to a patient – an independent clinical archive (ICA). An ICA, like BridgeHead’s HealthStore®, has the ability to aggregate historical information from a wide range of healthcare organisations, providing a 360-degree view of patients. This central repository facilitates better collaboration between healthcare providers and also enables access to contextual information. In this case, helping mental health practitioners to recognise potential triggers and use available data to inform accurate decision-making and reduce clinical risk.