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24 March 2017

Five reasons brain health is primed for digital innovation

Dr Jenny Barnett, Chief Scientific Officer for Cambridge Cognition examines the power that digital innovation has to change the way we look at brain health.

Digital innovations have the power to transform healthcare and research. New technology has improved our ability to help track and improve physical health and with one in four people in the world being affected by mental or neurological health disorders, digital technology has the potential to make a significant impact on brain health.

1. Brain health conditions are often stigmatised. Digital health solutions are discreet

Discussing mental health issues with work colleagues, neighbours, in-laws, or even your GP still feels harder than talking about other chronic conditions or symptom flare-ups. Stigma matters because it prevents patients from accessing appropriate treatment in a timely manner, and makes it harder for patients to adhere to their treatment regimes and get the best results from the drugs, therapy and support systems available to them. We can reduce the effect of stigma by making evidence-based health apps available to consumers so that anyone in need can access and use them discreetly, on their own phone at a convenient time and place.


2. Digital tools can give patients back power over their own health

Being told to take a pill in order to deal with the complex subjective experience of a mental illness can feel extraordinarily disempowering. If patients have not bought into the medical model, do not feel their doctor has fully understood their situation, or have reservations about the drug they are taking, their adherence to treatment is likely to be poor. Digital health tools that help patients report their experiences, monitor their symptoms and side effects, or simply provide more information about their condition and treatment gives patients back control. Empowering clinicians, patients, and families to work together better and share responsibility for the patient’s care.  


3. The symptoms of mental illness can themselves make it hard to access treatment

Mental health conditions affect people’s ability to take care of their own health, through symptoms such as reduced motivation, heightened anxiety, reduced tolerance for complex decision-making, and cognitive symptoms such as problems with attention and memory. Support and monitoring systems that are on patient’s own phones, work from their bedroom, or can potentially alert caregivers and healthcare providers without any action required by the patient, can significantly reduce barriers to accessing timely treatment.


4. Mental health is a huge unmet need; The most affordable solutions may be digital

If a revolutionarily new medicine became available tomorrow for conditions like depression, anxiety or Alzheimer’s, not everyone who might benefit would be able to afford or access it. For many conditions, the best available treatment at the moment is an optimally-managed drug regime - which is typically only moderately effective, or effective in only a subset of patients - plus skilled human contact: talking therapy for psychological disorders; rehabilitation and occupational therapy for patients with stroke or head injuries; intensive case management for patients with schizophrenia. Healthcare systems worldwide struggle to bridge the gap between the supply of these skilled professionals and the demand that exists. Digital assessment tools can help by ensuring the right patients are matched with the right professionals, and where appropriate, digital interventions and treatment support tools may also help reduce their workload and improve patient outcomes faster.


5. Treatment breakthroughs are rare; Patient support tools could make existing treatments more effective

The brain is a uniquely complex organ that’s well protected by a hard skull and the blood-brain barrier. For these and other reasons, creating safe and effective new compounds that improve some aspects of brain function without undesirable effects on others is an enormous scientific challenge. Even where effective treatments are available, many patients don’t take them according to their doctor’s instructions – sometimes intentionally, because they find the side effects unpleasant, other times unintentionally. Providing patients with digital tools to manage side effects, organise medication regimes, and motivate adherence by demonstrating the effects of treatment on daily health, could improve treatment efficacy and provide a faster and affordable impact than developing dramatically more effective drugs.

Cognition Kit is a joint venture between Cambridge Cognition and Ctrl Group formed to develop digital health tools on mobile and wearable devices.

For more information visit www.cognitionkit.com

Tags : innovation | brain health | digital health

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Dr Jenny Barnett,
Chief Scientific Officer for Cambridge Cognition