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12th February 2024 Mental Health

Boosting mental healthcare access in regional SA

Paul Worley and RMCLHN team Resized

Improving mental health outcomes for rural and regional South Australians is at the forefront of a new project being funded by The Hospital Research Foundation (THRF) Group. 

Led by Professor Paul Worley of the Riverland Mallee Coorong Local Health Network, the project will use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to improve the referral system for rural patients. 

Currently, initial assessment and referral (IAR) tools are used to direct patients to a mental health professional, regardless of their location. 

But the new platform will instead use AI to ensure that patients get the right care at the right time, reducing delays and avoiding unnecessary treatments. 

Prof Worley said the team was excited about the project’s potential impacts for regional patients. 

“Navigating the referral pathways to get the mental health care you or a loved one needs is complicated enough when you live in the city close to many providers, but when you throw in the access issues in rural SA, it becomes a nightmare,” he said. 

“We are excited to be able to use AI as an integrative referral and navigational tool to make our face-to-face mental health care more efficient and effective.” 

The program will repurpose the award-winning CareMappr software which uses appointment and prescription data to flag patients at risk of relapse and has already been trialled in the Northern Adelaide Local Health Network. 

Using a dedicated app, patients will be able to log changes to their needs and symptoms in real-time through symptom surveys, appointments, and prescribing medication in line with the IAR. 

The app will have the ability to raise red flags if symptoms deteriorate and provide the patient with immediate advice.  

A push notification will also be sent to the most relevant mental health provider to initiate changes to treatment plans. 

The project will be based at the Riverland General Hospital in Berri, running initially for 12 months with recruitment for focus groups beginning in January. 

Experts from Flinders University, University of South Australia and the Barossa Hills Fleurieu Local Health Network form the core collaborative team working on the program, which was awarded THRF Group’s funding through Health Translation SA’s (HTSA) inaugural Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) Catalyst Grant round. 

Prof Worley said the team were grateful to THRF Group and HTSA for supporting their bid to solve a critical problem for regional South Australians.