Jan 30, 2024

User-centred design of a Tele-mental Health Virtual Clinic system for rural, remote, and underserved Communities


The Research problem

Nearly one billion people globally struggle with diagnosable mental health conditions. Of these, 82% are from low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Pandemics such as the COVID-19, combined with the effects of climate change, conflicts and wars, have worsened the situation. Mental health treatment and care remain scarce, inadequate, inaccessible, or too expensive, especially in LMICs. Stigma and misunderstanding also prevent individuals with mental illness from seeking help. An acute shortage of skilled mental health professionals also limits access to quality care. Telemedicine, powered by mobile and accompanying technologies such as Artificial Intelligence(AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT), can lead to improved access and reduced cost of care, resulting in improved quality of care and health outcomes. Telemedicine can also address mental health workforce shortages. Virtual clinics are a telemedicine solution that connects people with mental illness or caregivers to a specialist health professional. In this project, we propose a user-centred design and solution co-creation approach to design, develop, and evaluate (in a real-world environment) a virtual clinic solution for enabling the remote provision of mental health services in rural, remote, and underserved communities.

Research Design

Employing a user-centred design and solution co-creation approach to design, develop, and evaluate a test case for the virtual clinic solution, the research question sought to be answered in this project is “How can AI and IoT technologies be leveraged to develop a virtual clinic system that can be used to support the delivery of mental health services in rural, remote and underserved communities?”.

The project activities will include undertaking a situational analysis, assessment of existing telemedicine and mobile health solutions in the regions of the WUN collaborators, and holding networking workshops involving all the WUN collaborators. The project consists of five WUN member universities and the Millenium University in Malawi, an external partner.

Project Objectives

The project aims to design, develop, and evaluate a virtual clinic solution that can deliver mental health services in remote, rural, and underserved communities. The proposed solution will be developed using design thinking and solution co-creation approaches for applicability in different regional contexts. The objectives for the 12 months of the project will include conducting a situational analysis of mental health in the WUN partner regions, holding online networking and knowledge exchange workshops, and recruiting two students from the collaborating universities to carry out a scoping review on the challenges and opportunities for implementation of virtual clinic systems for mental healthcare.