SOFIA | Supporting Mental Healthcare Through Danish Primary Care
Image of a workspace showing the BrightSelf mobile applicationss and the PhD thesis which describes and shaped their design and deployment

Technical University of Denmark: Health Technology Department, University of Copenhagen: Public Health Department, Danish National Centre for Social Research (Vive)

Literature Review, Participatory Design, Design Sketching, Graphic Design, Prototyping, Interviewing, Clinical Deployment

Healthcare, and the healthcare challenges we face as individuals and populations, are changing.

Increasingly, patients and health professionals are tasked with caring for health conditions chronic, complex and co-morbid in nature — combining both mental and physical illnesses requiring the coordination of care across services and specialities, and practices of medical decision-making not only in support of diagnosis and acute intervention but the provision and organisation of long-term care. This category of serious and complex medical conditions (SCMCs) encompasses what the medical literature terms severe mental illnesses (SMIs) including major depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia — a growing public health priority in Denmark.

It is estimated that 5% of the Danish population, as many as 300,000 people, will experience one form or another of SMI in their lifetime. This can have a significant impact on individuals' quality of life and life expectancy, whom can live as many as 15 years less than the general population. Significantly, this excess mortality has been shown to be associated most strongly with the under-diagnosis and under-treatment of co-morbid physical illnesses rather than as a primary function of any psychiatric diagnosis.

The World Health Organisation has identified primary care in particular as a critical setting for mental healthcare and intervention; given general practitioners' (GPs') roles as the first point of contact for many, and expertise in the care of co-morbid physical and mental health conditions. Despite a long-standing focus on person-centred care however, GPs in Denmark as elsewhere speak often of struggling to reach and engage a patient group whom themselves speak often of feeling unseen and unheard during consultations. This has led many public health researchers to call for new tools, means and methods of providing care for patients with SMI and other complex health conditions.

The SOFIA project was devised with this very purpose in mind — an ambitious, interdisciplinary endeavour with the aim of improving care for patients with SMI through primary care clinics across Denmark; through close collaboration between human-computer interaction and public health researchers, GPs, anthropologists, psychiatrists and computer scientists. As a key component of these efforts, we - a team of health technology researchers and developers at the Technical University of Denmark - are working to develop digital health technologies to enhance individuals' quality of life, extend life expectancy, and improve the effective functioning of health services. Our approach is founded upon the idea that care is more effective when patients and health professionals alike feel seen, heard and respected.

Watch this space.