Horizon CDT Research Highlights

Research Highlights

Exploring the role of responsible innovation within digital mental health intervention design and implementation

  Lucy Hitcham (2023 cohort)   www.linkedin.com/in/lucy-hitcham7003

Mental health services in the UK are increasingly in demand as rates of mental health problems such as depression and anxiety continue to rise (Baker & Kirk-Wade, 2023). Digital interventions, such as smartphone apps and internet-based programs, are becoming more popular as potential solutions to address this demand and other barriers to care. This has accelerated with the rise in online or hybrid care due to the COVID-19 pandemic (Torous et al., 2020). However, there are concerns with these technologies such as the lack of regulation and accountability, data policies, patient adherence and successful implementation into healthcare (BaƱos et al., 2022). There have been recent progressions in the evaluation and regulation of such digital interventions by the NHS and NICE, but Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) frameworks may offer insights that could improve development processes to address concerns and drawbacks. RRI encourages consideration of the wider social, environmental and ethical context of research and innovation and its implications. Using this lens, emerging technologies, such as digital mental health interventions, could embed this approach during development to ensure the ethical sustainability and desirability of their outcomes (Stahl et al., 2021). This could improve the choice and access to quality digital interventions for users and mental health services. However, it is important to understand to what extent these RRI frameworks could benefit intervention development, how they are understood and appraised by different stakeholders and how they fit into the current regulation and policy context.

Therefore, this PhD will aim to explore the perspectives of various digital mental health stakeholders on the role that RRI currently does, or should play, in the development process of these interventions. Using a range of qualitative methods, this PhD will involve talking to developers, users, researchers, clinicians, policymakers, innovation networks and other stakeholders to gather their opinions on the subject. It will also be important to look at what interventions are currently used or recommended by NHS England for common mental health disorders and examine current policies and regulations that influence them to get a clear picture of this research area. The aim will ultimately be to create a set of recommendations for digital mental health intervention developers to inform the responsible development practices of interventions to make them best suited for users and the NHS, to further inform policy and regulation, and to create resources for the general public around these issues to enable informed decisions.

This author is supported by the Horizon Centre for Doctoral Training at the University of Nottingham (UKRI Grant No. EP/S023305/1).