Online Service Delivery is Here to Stay for Mental Health Charities

Online Service Delivery is Here to Stay for Mental Health Charities

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What began out of necessity is now a long-term strategy for many mental health charities. But you don’t need to invest huge sums to make it successful. The tools you need are already out there.


The COVID-19 pandemic left mental health charities with no choice but to adapt. While larger charities scrambled to develop impressive large-scale digital transformation projects, many at the grassroots had to dive head-first into unchartered waters. But at both ends of the scale, the forced innovation brought on by the national lockdown has made charities realise the benefits of delivering selected services online. As the world begins to open up, many are now reflecting on its place in their strategy post-pandemic. 

Oliver Grig, Operations Director at Gallery Partnership, explains how throughout the pandemic, they have been helping clients old and new adapt to online service delivery.  

“The pandemic took everyone by surprise and many of our clients had to adapt quickly. However, faced with unprecedented demand many have realised the potential of online service delivery and are reaping its benefits. It’s improving their efficiency, saving them money and increasing their reach and impact. It’s safe to say that some form of online service delivery is here to stay.”

Mental health charities have long been primed to lead the digital revolution in healthcare services. With verbal therapies at their core, the challenges of supporting clients from a distance would appear to be reduced compared to those faced by others within the sector. However, this relative ease is juxtaposed with the highly sensitive, personal and confidential nature of their work that seems at odds with the digital environment. It is this, perhaps, which has seen 21% of charities cancel their services throughout the pandemic. For Oliver, concerns around cybersecurity have been a regular topic of conversation with clients.

“Our clients working in mental health quite rightly had nerves around moving to online delivery. Most of these came from worries about the safety and security of client information and data. There was a perception that large-scale bespoke software and systems need to be built which would require investment out of reach for many of our clients. But available tools have all the security features they needed to ensure that services can be delivered, information can be shared, and clients can be supported safely. It’s all about ensuring they are configured correctly and that your people know how to use them.”

If you’re on the fence about including online delivery as part of your post-COVID strategy, Oliver has some tips on how you can make a success of digital services using ‘off-the-shelf’ tools that won’t have you breaking into the reserves. 

Maintain human connections through video

As COVID hit, one concern for charities was how they could continue to provide the vital face-to-face support that is at the very heart of the work they do. Video conferencing tools have been a saving grace, enabling mental health charities to maintain some form of human connection with their clients. Many have found it preferable to telephone support, noting how the ability to see each other helps overcome distance barriers and enables charities to respond to the visual cues that are just as important when providing one-to-one support. 

But there are numerous other benefits for both organisations and service users which mental health charities have begun to realise. 

Charities are noticing how providing distanced support increases their reach, has the potential to reduce waiting times for clients and, in turn, improve overall impact and outcomes by enabling support to be offered without barriers. It’s also a cheaper option, which will benefit charities as they recover from the financial difficulties of the pandemic. For inner-city charities, providing video support can reduce costs by around 16%. It’s even better news for those working in rural areas – embedding remote support could prove to be up to four times cheaper in-person visits. 

Understandably, when working in an area such as mental health – charities have had concerns about confidentiality and security when moving towards video conferencing over face-to-face support. This perhaps isn’t helped by various reports of ‘zoom-bombing’ as the world got to grips with new ways of working. But for Oliver, there is no need for concern when making use of the full range of features available within them.

“Lots of charities have invested in digital transformation projects that have included the development of bespoke video counselling platforms. It’s great to see innovation like this coming from the sector – but the cost of developing something like this is unrealistic for many. The ‘big-boys’ of video conferencing – Teams, Zoom, Skype – all have impressive security features including password protection, encryption and two-factor authentication. When used correctly, these readily available platforms are perfectly safe to use with your clients and have the bonus of being easily accessible for most service-users.”

Oliver’s top tip would be to choose a system, stick with it and produce some robust guidance to ensure your people are making the most of the service’s security features. 

Embrace The Cloud

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Laptop and mobile phone with a cloud image above representing cloud connectivity

The move towards online service delivery goes hand-in-hand with needing a more agile way of storing and sharing information. With hybrid-working set to become the norm and mental health charities looking to continue remote support, many are looking for new ways of working that improve processes and enhance online delivery strategies. 

For Oliver, nothing can compete with Cloud-based solutions. 

“Our clients are telling us that their move towards flexible, remote service delivery works both ways. It benefits both service users and those providing vital support. The configuration capabilities of Cloud-based solutions make it a secure option for allowing your people to deliver remote support and sharing information internally and with other organisations involved with care plans.”

With many Cloud-based IT solutions integrated with the video conferencing tools that are a vital component of online service delivery, they offer mental health charities the ability to streamline their support processes within one secure package that can be accessed anywhere.

Empower your people

The impressive security features that can be configured within ‘off-the-shelf’ software packages and services are perfectly appropriate for mental health charities – even when dealing with sensitive and confidential information. However, they can only go so far in ensuring service-user data is safe. 

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Man using multi-factor authentication on his phone to access his laptop

95% of data breaches happen because of human error. Above everything else, your people hold the key to ensuring a successful and secure move towards online service delivery. For Oliver, providing ongoing training and support to the workforce is the most important factor in navigating the digital-first approach to service delivery. 

“When mental health charities deliver in-person services, they adhere to strict guidelines on confidentiality and security. The rules don’t change when delivering services remotely – and there are far more things to consider when services go digital. Firewalls, passwords, multi-factor authentication are all totally necessary, but will only ever go so far. People are the most important tool any organisation has in making a success of digital delivery.”

Oliver recommends embedding training into the core of your strategy when you begin to plan to implement online delivery into a long-term strategy and producing a summary of training undertaken to service users for transparency – either by request or on your website. Making your service users aware of the new processes behind online delivery will help them feel more comfortable with the remote services too. 

All in all…

‘Off-the-shelf’ doesn’t mean ‘off-limits’ for mental health charities. The widely available videoconferencing and cloud-based infrastructures that can transform the way you deliver services to your clients have the security features necessary to provide successful and safe support when configured correctly. The key lies in empowering your people to take the same responsibility for ensuring remote services are secure as they have always done in person. 


Gallery Partnership provides an entire suite of affordable IT services and software systems, empowering charities to focus on what’s most important - their cause. www.gallerypartnership.co.uk or call 020 7096 2808

 

 

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Woman therapist speaking to a client over video call using a laptop