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Therapy For You, the NHS Talking Therapies service for patients across North East and South East Essex, recently introduced Limbic to their website – an innovative mental health referral chatbot that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to improve access to their range of talking therapies.
Completely free to use, this tool is allowing those in need of support to find the treatments they need easily, and begin their journey to therapy entirely online.
With the government pledging their long-term commitment to improving access to psychological therapies in June’s 2023 mandate for NHS England, this area is a top priority for mental health services across the country.
However, out of the 1 in 4 people affected by mental health concerns in the UK every year, just 1.81 million were referred to NHS Talking Therapies in 2022. There are many reasons why individuals avoid seeking help, with the fear of judgement being among the most prevalent – a trend that the team at Therapy For You believed was impacting their service.
“Whilst we have a great website where people can access our first-of-their-kind online courses and convenient ‘ieso typed’ therapy immediately, or much quicker than our standard treatment pathways, there was no solely digital route to our talking therapies,” said Richard Black, NHS Talking Therapies Digital Services Manager at Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust (EPUT).
“To get started with this type of treatment in the past, patients had to ring into the service themselves. For those already finding it difficult to cope, this phone call could become a huge source of anxiety and an enormous barrier to treatment.”
As a way to improve the accessibility to their range of treatments, Therapy For You identified a need for an online referral pathway that was quick, easy, and well supported.
Forming a partnership with Limbic, the service’s website now features a clinically proven e-triage assistant that uses AI to help users access their full range of mental health support online, at any time – even out of office hours.
To help people on the Therapy For You website find what they are looking for, Limbic asks visitors how it can assist immediately.
Able to direct users to wherever they need for immediate services such as ieso typed therapy and Omni Online CBT, the AI assistant also enables people to refer online to talking therapies such as 1-1 therapy, group therapy, phone therapy, and video calls.
To do this, Limbic will ask users a range of important questions on their demographic information and details about their emotional wellbeing, as well as some brief insight into their current situation. It then asks them questions related to mood, anxiety, and the management of day-to-day tasks before completing their referral to the service.
Once a user’s referral has been confirmed – normally within a couple of hours but certainly by the next working day – they will be sent a link to the service’s
“choose and book” system, so that they can book a convenient assessment appointment at a time best suited for them.
The chatbot has been so successful that Therapy For You are already looking to install the updated, more wider-reaching ChatoBot in the near future.
“The chatbot will also inquire about an individual’s presentation, enabling Limbic to identify a better range of outcome measures and give our team a clearer understanding of what their underlying issue might be,” said Black.
“Able to pick up on all types of emotional difficulties such as depression, social anxiety disorders, OCD, and PTSD, the information Limbic collects is securely gathered and passed on to our practitioners in a data-compliant manner.”
This added accessibility is not just streamlining matters for Therapy For You’s therapists. The service says that this approach is helping create a more focused experience for users, forming a foundation that their assessing therapist can work from.
Furthermore, the integration of Limbic has helped the service begin to further reduce its wait times.
“By directly connecting to our booking system, the e-triage assistant gives patients time to carefully consider their schedule, and choose a date and time that best suits them. We’ve found that this has reduced the number of appointments missed by around 8%,” explained Black.
“For an NHS service significantly affected by the impact of missed appointments, improving patient attendance is an unexpected but important part of our ongoing relationship with Limbic.”
The service has closely monitored the performance of Limbic during its first nine months, and according to data provided, more than 4,500 people have used the chatbot to make a referral – 89% of which said that they found the new system helpful.
Additionally, Therapy For You says that the number of phone referrals into the service have fallen by a third, with many visitors opting to use the new AI assistant to seek the support they require instead.
“All of this goes to show how important and valuable digital innovation is within the therapeutic landscape,” said Black.
Yet, despite the resounding success of the partnership, the team acknowledges that Limbic isn’t the right pathway to treatment for everyone. For those who prefer a more personal approach, phone referrals are still available.
“Limbic was never introduced as a way to replace people. Instead, it’s a powerful tool for our practitioners, saving many people the time and trouble of calling into the service,” added Black.
Following a successful nine-month trial, Therapy For You continues to explore the full potential of Limbic as a way to support patients throughout their therapeutic journey.