Technology red-flags depression, anxiety

CLEVER SCIENCE: iPad technology is being used to red-flag people suffering from anxiety.
CLEVER SCIENCE: iPad technology is being used to red-flag people suffering from anxiety.

Aucklanders suffering from anxiety, depression or substance abuse are being red-flagged in doctors' waiting rooms, but the technology could soon be used in schools.

University of Auckland researchers tapped into iPad technology to screen hundreds of patients for a range of health ailments while waiting to see a doctor last year.

Professor Felicity Goodyear-Smith, who developed the programme called eChat, said it took a structured approach to health screening of major issues.

The initiative works by patients or students taking a survey on an iPad before they see a doctor, she said.

Patients are asked first if they have a problem, such as how much alcohol they drink.

The questionnaire then asks more probing questions of whether alcohol abuse is affecting their life.

Doctors are warned if the person's answers show they're a high-risk for abuse, anger, anxiety, depression or addictions.

"It lets doctors know the severity of the problem, not just if there is a problem," she said.

Goodyear-Smith said the person can then be referred on to helplines, therapy - or in some cases doctors can begin a mental health intervention.

Secondary school students at Tamaki College will soon be using the technology.

Students aged 16 and over answer the questionnaire on their computers and are referred on to the school doctor if required.

The technology is expected to be more widely used by early next year.

Health Workforce NZ granted the research team money to expand it into 30 clinics, with the majority of GPs in Auckland.

Goodyear-Smith said the programme was aimed at stopping high-risk patients or students falling through the gaps.

"Even if the person says no to help, they may come back because it has seeded the idea."

People who are suffering depression or struggling with addictions are not always being picked up by the health care system, she said.

The eChat system was trialled in 50 doctor clinics last year.

Goodyear-Smith said if the trial goes well it could be rolled out into more schools and doctors clinics as a nationwide preventative health programme.

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