Health care workers using the app reported a reduction in symptoms of behavioural and intellectual distress as well as reduced insomnia
“The Covid-19 pandemic introduced a period of unparalleled pressure on frontline healthcare workers; pressure which arguably remains today. Many organisations have admirably sought to support staff during the pandemic through a range of initiatives, however, there has so far been a lack of evidence as to what works and for whom. Our study established that a smartphone based mental health support for health workers can be of help.” Professor Simon Wessely, regius professor of psychiatry, King’s College London
The mental health and wellbeing of NHS health care workers can be improved through the use of the Koa Foundations app, a study has found.
The study, by researchers at King’s College London, looked at more than a thousand health care workers from across England. Approximately half were provided with access to Koa Foundations, with surveys at four and eight weeks.
The results, which were published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, showed that use of the app by both clinical and non-clinical health care workers was associated with “statistically significant improvement in mental health and wellbeing”. At follow-ups, researchers noted a reduction in symptoms of behavioural and intellectual distress, and a decrease in the likelihood of experiencing insomnia. The effects were most strongly seen in women, clinical staff and younger participants.
Professor Simon Wessely, regius professor of psychiatry at King’s and senior author of the study, said: “The Covid-19 pandemic introduced a period of unparalleled pressure on frontline healthcare workers; pressure which arguably remains today. Many organisations have admirably sought to support staff during the pandemic through a range of initiatives, however, there has so far been a lack of evidence as to what works and for whom. Our study established that a smartphone based mental health support for health workers can be of help.”
The app, designed by Koa Health, which also funded the project, provides a library of content to help with symptoms such as stress, poor sleep, anxious thoughts and low self-esteem. The content is curated by psychologists and developed using National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) techniques.
Dr Ben Carter, a reader at King’s and study senior statistician, described the results as “promising”, adding: “We have undertaken a large robust randomised controlled trial, which enrolled a typical healthcare worker population with a range of symptoms. This means the findings are likely to be generalisable to the hospital workforce across the UK. Going forward, the app could be offered throughout the UK with ease and at scale to provide an effective intervention to support our NHS workforce.”
Dr Sam Gnanapragasam, NIHR academic clinical fellow in psychiatry at King’s and the study’s first author said, “Working patterns can make it difficult for health workers to find a consistent time to get help, while the lack of anonymity when asking for help can put off many from even trying in the first place. The study is promising as it suggests that a smartphone-based mental health solution can overcome some of these traditional barriers to help staff who use it”.
We strongly support research that looks at how digital interventions might improve mental health and wellbeing. It’s hugely positive to see a large-scale RCT that shows benefits to NHS workers from the use of a mental health app, though we should be mindful of the fact that it was funded by the app’s makers. It will be good to see more research carried out, across the sector, including studies that compare the effectiveness of the app with other interventions. Assessment in real world settings is also useful where mental health is complex and dynamic.