Dr James Reed, chief clinical information officer at Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust, posed a thought provoking question recently; is the NHS reinforcing mental health stigma through excessive data secrecy?
Often clinicians talk about mental health data in hushed tones, as if there is something secret and extra sensitive about it when compared to other health information. This can result in clinicians not being as informed as they should be when treating people with mental illnesses.
Dr Reed argues that, “Treating mental health data as if it needs to be locked away in isolation is a complete contradiction to delivering equality for mental health.” Information about one’s schizophrenia or depression should in no way be seen as different, or any more sensitive or difficult as information about cancer or diabetes.
Patient privacy is central to effective care, and any sensitive patient information must only be accessed when appropriate. But when mental health is singled out with excessive secrecy, or even hidden away entirely, much worse outcomes for the patient can ensue, particularly when their problems are not understood.
Patient treatment cannot be effective if professionals don’t have access to information they need, and that inevitably leads to poorer standards of care. Parity of esteem, or valuing mental and physical health equally, and reducing mental health stigma, is now a national priority. CareDirector Mental Health solution can help to eliminate this data related issue. All of a patient’s data is stored and organised to be readily available to clinicians in one place. A clinician can search for certain information points, or scroll through the patient’s entire history with ease in a social media style user interface, offering a clear and complete picture of a patient’s history and ultimately reducing the delay in patient treatment.
But to really reduce mental health stigma, Dr Reed argues that we need a societal shift to ensure availability of information needed to treat patients with mental illness becomes acceptable. We are not there yet, but the conversation continues to evolve, especially with high-profile individuals like Princes William and Harry talking openly about mental health and mental illness.
As with any sensitive data, it is important to ensure that it is accessed appropriately, with safeguards in place. However, Dr Reed passionately proclaims that we must stop seeing mental health as a special case – there should be no shame attached.
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