1 Nov 2022

The aim is to enable more patients to be involved in mental health research and ultimately to improve health outcomes.  

What is the health problem?

Evidence shows that people who receive care in research-active clinical settings experience better health outcomes. Relatively speaking, research is embraced in physical health settings, with research in specialist services, such as oncology seen as a mark of quality. However, involvement in research in mental health settings, has been more challenging.   

Serving a local population of 1.3 million people, South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (SLaM) is committed to addressing this. As part of its research strategy, the Trust aims to routinely offer patients opportunities to take part in research, alongside their clinical care, to help improve service user outcomes.

At the moment it is difficult for SLaM clinicians to access a ‘menu’ of suitable research studies at a patient’s appointment. In addition, clinical teams are busy and have limited time to engage with service users around research, and so valuable opportunities for participation in research may be missed. Currently, researchers rely on asking clinical staff to identify and link them to potential participants, which has limitations.

Aim of the project

The ARC research team, led by Professor Fiona Gaughran, aim to change this, using electronic prompts generated by CogStack, an information retrieval platform developed by NIHR Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre, to alert SLaM mental health clinicians of research studies relevant to their patients. The aim is to increase access to clinical research.

Not only does this have the potential to enhance health outcomes, but it could also improve access to research participation opportunities for people from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds and older adults, groups currently underrepresented in clinical research

Professor Fiona Gaughran, applied informatics lead at ARC South London, director of research and development, South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust.

The project will use innovative informatics solutions, such as machine learning and inclusion criteria algorithms linked to a database of all SLaM patients to generate live alerts for clinicians. This will result in more frequent and consistent presentation of research opportunities to patients with wide range of common and rarer conditions.

Professor Fiona Gaughran says: “Once the prompts are established, it will be possible to include research projects focusing on non-mental health morbidities too, increasing the range of research to our patients, the breadth of knowledge of our staff, and reaching a large section of the population with mental health conditions, who are often excluded from non-mental health research, either by design or for practical reasons.”

The main objectives of the study are to:

  • Work closely with staff, patients and carers to support the implementation of the new alerts
  • Develop links between existing Clinical Records Interactive Search (CRIS) C4C research project search systems and Cogstack
  • Explore the technical feasibility of using other research databases, in keeping with information governance good practice and legislation
  • Quantify the number of clinicians alerted of research projects relevant to their patients
  • Determine whether research opportunities are passed on to patients
  • Determine whether the new system leads to an increase in research participation, including within historically underrepresented groups within research

The potential benefits of the project include:

  • Improved patient outcomes
  • Positive effects on staff recruitment and retention
  • More efficient translation of research into practice
  • More equitable research across diverse and underrepresented groups.
  • More integrated and attractive research environment for academics and industry
  • Wider patient access to novel trial diagnostics, interventions and therapeutics

Involvement of patients and services users

This project has been developed in close partnership with patients and services users in the applied informatics patient, public involvement and engagement (PPIE) group.

I think it is good that this will get new [mental health patients] into research

PPIE group member

It is good for [patients] to get involved in the research. It will help with their recovery’

PPIE group member

’Doctors needs to be more informed as to the benefits of research and communicating with both, the patient and careers. [Especially if] that will improve outcomes and generate income for [NHS Trusts]

PPIE group member

Related content