There is an increase in demand for services and a UK wide lack of health care professionals to deliver psychological interventions.
In Scotland, 50% of GP referrals to children’s hospitals concern uncomfortable bodily symptoms without underlying disease. The largest proportion of referrals are to gastroenterology outpatient services. Approximately 4 in every 10 gastroenterology outpatient appointments are concerned with this patient group. Impact includes significant school absence, reduced socialising and engagement in activities, increased anxiety and frustration with ongoing time off work for parents and carers.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) reviewed all research evidence and found computerised cognitive behavioural therapy to be as effective for mild-moderate depression and anxiety as that delivered by a skilled therapist. However, those digital solutions that have been examined in detail are marked by a linear, predetermined presentation of material with little user interaction, high initial uptake (up to 85%) but disappointing completion rates (15 to 20%), and invariably use outdated technology.
Louise is 14 years old and has been experiencing significant abdominal pain for over a year. She often has uncomfortable feelings of nausea, stomach cramps and sometimes diarrhoea. These symptoms can often keep her awake at night and she catches up with her sleep during the day. She frequently thinks she is too sore and too fatigued to go to school. She has become increasingly worried about falling behind and she feels miserable about missing her friends and the things she used to do.
Louise has visited her local paediatric gastroenterologist every few months for about a year. The doctor has done a range of tests, repeated a few of them, and tried a few different medications and exclusion diets. Nothing has helped. Louise and her parents don’t really understand what is happening, are worried it might be something serious, and are becoming increasingly convinced nothing will ever help. A couple of times over the last 2 months Louise has been admitted overnight to a medical ward because she and her family didn’t know what else to do.
Louise is 14 years old and had been experiencing significant abdominal pain for a few months, which she and her family found stressful. She missed the odd day of school here and there because she and her family used to believe that when her symptoms were uncomfortable, she was better to stay at home and rest.
Louise visited her local paediatric gastroenterologist who reassured her there was nothing seriously wrong, did a couple of tests to make sure, and pointed her toward a new AI-driven psychological therapy service for young people like her. This new digital service consisted of a state-of-the-art cognitive agent interface, which responded dynamically to her specific needs. The cognitive agent was supported by a library of resources designed to help her make sense of her experiences and develop the skills to better manage her symptoms and get on with her life.
Louise still has uncomfortable symptoms from time to time but manages these better than previously. She has no more days off school than her peers. Louise and her family aren’t worried there is anything seriously wrong with her and don’t feel the need to return to her local children’s hospital for further appointments.
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