Five Minutes with Honorary Research Fellow Trent Ernest Hammond. Trent Ernest is an Honorary Research Fellow in Psychiatry in the Faculty of Medicine and Health at The University of Sydney. He is also completing a PhD in Medicine with The University of Sydney Nepean Clinical School.
Can you please tell us about a day in your life?
As a mental health researcher and a psychology teacher, I enjoy working on numerous research projects with NSW Health and The University of Sydney, and, I have the pleasure of working with highly engaged undergraduate university students. I am based at The University of Sydney Nepean Clinical School at Kingswood, and, I work between Nepean Local Health District and Western Sydney Local Health District. A typical day for me includes drafting manuscripts for publication in peer-reviewed academic journals, giving presentations to my colleagues in NSW Health and presenting at conferences, teaching psychology students, analysing data, applying for grants, being involved in various academic committees, and completing my PhD work and other projects. Some important research projects I am coordinating include the: Short Message Service Save Our Souls (SMS SOS) Project; Surveillance and Intervention Network for the Evaluation of Self-Harm (SINES) Project; Boehringer Ingelheim BI425809 Schizophrenia and Computerized Cognitive Training Project; and Hybrid, Psycho-Educational Mobile Application (app) for Social Anxiety (HPEMA-SA) Project.
The overall objectives of my research are to enhance existing eHealth apps to improve patient care, to reduce the cost and strain on the healthcare system, and, to ultimately improve health outcomes for all Australians. This includes, reducing unnecessary patient re-presentation rates at hospitals for preventable mental health problems, treating existing mental health problems, and preventing future health burden in the community. For example, The SMS SOS Project aims to evaluate the efficacy of supportive text messaging for patients who have deliberately self-harmed. The SINES Project aims to electronically identify and monitor patients at risk of suicide and deliberate self-harm through improving NSW Health Information Technology Systems. The Boehringer Ingelheim Clinical Trial evaluates whether the new drug BI425809 taken, adjunct with brain training using a computer, improves mental functioning of patients with schizophrenia. The HPEMA-SA Project is my PhD work, which is aimed at conceptualising an innovative mobile app for social anxiety, which allows people to assess social anxiety, makes treatment recommendations, and educates the community about managing and dealing with social anxiety.
How do you define digital health?
For me, digital health is about collaborating with leading experts, patients, and community representatives to improve existing digital health systems and to create innovative ways to improve health outcomes for all Australians. The only way this can be achieved is by working together, by freely exchanging innovative findings, and by boldly putting forward novel concepts.
What do you think will enable digital health projects and innovations to succeed?
From my perspective, there are three key factors that challenge our ability to be practically innovative and to drive positive change in eHealth. First, several novel winning ideas originate from new researchers who are in the process of completing their PhDs. Although there are limited funding opportunities available for these students, there are several restraints and limitations in applying and in obtaining funding. For example, project funding is out of reach to most PhD students, the application process for national grants is overly burdensome, and, a lot of the grant funding is project specific, which limits new ideas outside of the scope of those projects. Second, there is still far too much bureaucratic red-tape and reporting involved in co-ordinating and managing research projects. In several instances, 3-month and 6-month progress reports are required, which take considerable time to complete, taking researchers away from their core projects. Third, several researchers are reluctant to develop new forms of technology while being engaged at universities, government agencies, and at commercial organisations, due to intellectual property policies. Increasing funding opportunities for PhD students, reducing research red-tape, and relaxing intellectual property policies, could potentially result in Australia being the leader in digital health projects.
Have you come across any surprises or challenges along the way?
Patient record management in public hospitals is an important aspect of patient care. However, there are some limitations of our existing record management systems. For example, when I began working for Health, I was surprised to hear anecdotally that clinicians spend two-to-three times longer reading patient notes and electronically documenting patient encounters than actually working with clients one-on-one. Further, during my work on mobile health apps, I have identified that the majority of mental health mobile apps are not evidence-based, which is concerning considering that these are available for anyone to download in the commercial app stores. Through reducing reporting requirements, streamlining our patient record management systems, and appropriately regulating the development of mobile apps, I have no doubt that we can better utilise clinicians’ time and enhance healthcare for all Australians. This requires an intergovernmental approach and common standards and practices in eHealth, which can only be achieved by working together.
Do you have any interesting resources or helpful networks people should know about?
E-Mental Health in Practice provides an excellent evidence-based Guide to Digital Mental Health Resources for common mental health problems. There are also some good e-resources available on non-for-profit community organisations’ websites, including:
Black Dog Institute
Get in touch with Trent:
Digital Health and Informatics Network: https://dhin.net.au/members/trenth2018/
A huge thank you to Trent for being our August feature!