Swinburne University’s National eTherapy Centre has built on the uni’s relationship with Coviu, a telehealth spin-out from the CSIRO’s Data61, to offer a broader range of digital mental health solutions.
Coviu’s platform has so far been geared towards AI-assisted video-based health consultations, but is expanding into an encrypted messaging service for the Centre’s free Mental Health Online service.
“Most of our clients are already familiar with instant messaging, which makes text-chat an attractive option for getting support,” Mental Health Online clinical program manager, Lauren Rossi said.
Importantly, the mobile and desktop messaging service is used to complement other communication profiles like email and video calls to make the service more appealing and approachable for younger people starting to engage with mental health services.
Digital mental health fellow at Swinburne, Dr Liz Seabrook, added that the text-chat sessions have been popular with the service’s clients since being introduced in March.
“It’s now one of the most common modalities we use to support clients in completing their online mental health program,” Seabrook said.
“For many clients, a real-time text chat session is a practical first step into talking with a health practitioner, which for some can be quite confronting.”
The text platform also has a Snapchat-like function familiar to users whereby data is automatically deleted at the end of a session unless specifically saved by the client, Coviu chief executive Silvia Pfeiffer said.
“We think that the medium of text-chat is so popular because people can reach out to get human support without the pressure of talking or showing their face," added Mental Health Online director, associate professor Neil Thomas.
Swinburne also recognised that clients aren’t the only ones who have to feel comfortable using telehealth solutions, whether they be text-based or video.
Its existing relationship with Coviu means the platform is embedded through a number of health curricula, including for psychology, nursing, and occupational therapy, to address the growing need for health practitioners to engage with telehealth initiatives across Australia.