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New Zealand Researchers Evaluate Online Mental Health Platform

Researchers at the University of Auckland are embarking on a 12-month study to evaluate an online mental health platform designed especially for the Māori community (indigenous Polynesian people of mainland New Zealand).

With funding from a telecommunications company, the university researchers will work with Māori to evaluate the health platform called Clearhead. The researchers want to understand how Māori engage with Clearhead, with a specific focus on what encourages and prevents Māori from using an online platform to support mental health and wellbeing.

A University of Auckland senior clinical research member says that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected New Zealanders’ mental health, evidenced through increasing rates of distress. The team wants to find out if an online platform such as Clearhead could provide mental health support. This is particularly important as mental health needs are on the rise and pressures are increased on the healthcare workforce.

The Clearhead platform, designed by an Auckland-based local business, includes an AI-powered wellbeing assistant that can triage, refer, and educate users based on their risk profile. The assistant also creates a personalised wellbeing plan that monitors mental health progress over time.

The tech developers say that the Māori are more likely to experience mental health distress but are also less likely to seek help. By providing the platform and a mobile phone app, they believe that mental health support will be more accessible.

The tech company also has strong networks with Māori communities including those with lived experience of mental health. Therefore, they will use these connections to reach out to Māori communities to identify the factors influencing engagement with the online platform to see if it is an acceptable, safe, and effective way of delivering mental health support.

The results of the study are expected in late 2022.

As reported by OpenGov Asia, in New Zealand, high-value research is not only produced from the Universities but also genius ideas of everyday people, developing to address global health problems. Kiwi-made innovation is providing New Zealanders with first access to ground-breaking medical technology while creating high-value local jobs. As reported, six emerging health tech start-ups are stemming from homegrown talents. The common aim for all these technologies is to help medical professionals do their jobs better, reducing bottlenecks so that they can spend more one-on-one time with patients.

The six emerging health tech start-ups are:

  • Tech on reducing female incontinence. One in three women suffers from stress urinary incontinence. The innovation aims to help more women overcome this by improving the effectiveness of pelvic floor exercises. The device uses a patented configuration of sensors to measure profiles along with the vagina, where users get real-time visual feedback on their smart device about their pelvic floor contractions.
  • Tech about life-saving real-time data analysis. The innovation brings together the wealth of data created each second by what can be up to 8 different monitoring devices in ICU, for instance, to help clinicians make better and quicker decisions. It can alert staff to issues that are happening to the patient earlier before typical visible signs.
  • Tech about digitally connecting elderly to loved ones as well as healthcare. The innovation is a field-tested device that helps connect the elderly to people in the outside world in the simplest way possible, which is by using the TV and remote that they already use every day.
  • AI-driven app for mental health. Described as a ‘therapist in your pocket’, the innovation has made cognitive behavioural therapy digital to make it accessible to more people who need it.
  • Automated diagnosing of cardiology issues. The innovation uses artificial intelligence to autonomously analyse echocardiogram images, alongside the cardiologist, to improve the diagnosis.
  • Wearable muscle rehabilitation. It is a new rehabilitation tool born out of research with elite sportspeople. It delivers localised vibration therapy to muscles, ligaments and joints in a practical, wearable form.

Callaghan Innovation, New Zealand’s Innovation Agency handles these projects. It offers innovation, R&D and commercialisation support, connections and co-funding for ambitious New Zealand innovators.

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