Research Snapshot: Delivery of compassionate mental health care using digital technologies

What you need to know

Researchers conducted a scoping review of the literature to explore the delivery of compassionate mental health care using digital technologies. They found that use of digital technologies can support the delivery of compassionate care in new ways and offers new approaches for teaching or training health care professionals to provide compassionate care. The researchers also identified various factors that can facilitate or hinder the delivery of compassionate care when using digital technology.

 

This Research Snapshot was written by Rossana Coriandoli based on the article, “Delivery of Compassionate Mental Health Care in a Digital Technology–Driven Age: Scoping Review” published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research in 2020. Read it below or download the PDF.

Research Snapshots are brief, clear language summaries of research articles, presented in a user-friendly format.

What is this research about?

Compassion is a critical component of delivering effective health care services, especially those aimed at improving mental health.

As we continue to see widespread adoption of digital technologies (such as virtual care, mobile apps and patient portals) it remains unclear how their use may affect the delivery of compassionate mental health care. For this reason, it’s important to understand the relationship between the two and to explore how compassionate mental health services can be better delivered through and with digital technologies.

What did the researchers do?

Ontario researchers conducted a scoping review to find out what digital technologies are being used to deliver mental health care. They also explored the relationship between digital technologies and compassionate mental health care and identified barriers to and facilitators of using these technologies.

The researchers looked at English studies published in the academic literature between 1990 to 2019. They didn’t look at grey literature (such as reports, working papers, government documents, and white papers). They also had discussions with mental health and digital health researchers , mental health professionals, and various health care professionals in Ontario.

For this project, the researchers used the definition of compassion from The Oxford Handbook of Compassion Science, which comprises of the following dimensions.

  1. having awareness of another’s experience of suffering or need
  2. feeling moved
  3. recognizing this feeling as a response to the other person’s need
  4. making a judgement that the other person is suffering
  5. taking action to alleviate the other person’s suffering.

What did the researchers find?

They identified 37 articles that examined the delivery of compassionate mental health care using digital technologies. Within the articles, telemedicine was the most widely used technology among mental health professionals. Digital technologies (for example, virtual reality and apps) were also used to provide services for a variety of mental health diagnoses.

The researchers found that digital technologies can support the delivery of compassionate mental health care in numerous ways. For example, some online interventions (for example, through video calls) can facilitate the opportunity to respond to the suffering of an individual. Likewise, digital technologies, such as immersive virtual reality systems, can support teaching or training health care professionals to better deliver compassionate care and respond to suffering.

Facilitators to delivering compassionate mental health care using digital technologies included:

  • feedback on social cues
  • training/education for health professionals
  • increased safety for providers
  • multilevel participation
  • peer-support
  • improved accessibility
  • optional anonymity.

Barriers included the following:

  • limitations because of health professionals’ perceptions and abilities
  • impersonal automated responses
  • lack of social cues
  • effect of non-responses
  • group size
  • computer use during patient encounters
  • poor quality of technology
  • inappropriate uses of technology at various stages of illness.

How can you use this research?

This research may be useful to policymakers and system planners, as well as organizations aiming to implement digital mental health services.

Limitations of the research

Limitations include the lack of quality assessment for the articles reviewed, the subjective nature of compassion, the exclusion of grey literature, and the potential that the technologies may have been classified inaccurately.

About the researchers

Jessica Kemp,1,2 Timothy Zhang,1,2 Fiona Inglis,3 David Wiljer,3,4,5 Sanjeev Sockalingam,3,6 Allison Crawford,3,6 Brian Lo,2,3,5 Rebecca Charow,4,5 Mikayla Munnery,5,7 Shuranjeet Singh Takhar,5 Gillian Strudwick2,5,7

  1. Faculty of Science, University of Waterloo, Waterloo
  2. Information Management Group, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Toronto
  3. Office of Education, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Toronto
  4. Education Technology and Innovation, University Health Network, Toronto
  5. Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation, University of Toronto, Toronto.
  6. Department of Psychiatry, University of Toronto, Toronto
  7. Campbell Family Mental Health Research Institute, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Toronto

Keywords 

Compassion, mental health, digital, technology

This Research Snapshot was written by Rossana Coriandoli based on the article, “Delivery of Compassionate Mental Health Care in a Digital Technology–Driven Age: Scoping Review” published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research in 2020. https://doi.org/10.2196/1626