Supporting people's mental health with digital technology
Project Synergy was a government-funded series of research trials that are designed to measure the effectiveness of the Synergy Online System - a technology Platform to deliver mental health care.
It covered the entire lifespan – including younger children and their families, young people, adults and the veteran community, healthy ageing – and is designed to measure the impact of the Platform in Australian mental health services. The research trials was funded under the Australian government’s Digital Mental Health Program. Project Synergy brought together individuals with lived experience of mental ill-health, clinicians, service providers, researchers and technologists to achieve its aims.
Innowell - a joint venture between PwC Australia and the University of Sydney - was established to deliver Project Synergy and explore sustainable business models to support mental health service system reform.
The research based on the Synergy Online System has resulted in the Innowell Platform - an innovative, well-tested and validated world-class digital mental health platform.
Innowell procured the research services of The University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre to provide an independent Research and Development Group (R&D Group) and ensure the ethical integrity of the trials. The R&D Group leads the Project Synergy trials in collaboration with a wide range of mental health service providers.
In collaboration with individuals, supportive others, health professionals and service providers, the R&D Group tested the design, usability and functionality of the Innowell Platform to ensure it was suited to best meet the needs of specific health providers and the individuals who use their services.
Based on the research trials, the resultant Platform was then implemented within specific health services and studied in a real-world context. The study aimed to evaluate the impact of the Platform on individual user health and social outcomes, and changes in service metrics (such as reduced wait times, improved access, and improved patient outcomes). The results of these real-world trials helped to further improve the Innowell Platform.
The Innowell Platform used Participatory / Co-Design approaches to incorporate elements of what users of such systems find useful and valuable.
This included aspects of accessibility, language, utility and aesthetics, with broad consideration for what might be desirable while also balancing the technological and operational feasibility of such features. The Co-Design took input from, and balanced a range of voices from individuals with Lived Experience, their carers, Mental Health Professionals, Health Service Provider Organisations and Digital technologists.
To find out more, download our supplement Project Synergy: Research and development cycle from the peer-reviewed Medical Journal of Australia.
Project Synergy included a Lived Experience Advisory Function (LEAF) to ensure that the voices of people with a lived experience were considered and suitably incorporated in the Platform. Lived experience refers to the knowledge and insights of people who have a personal experience of mental ill health, and it deeply informed and guided the design of our mental health research, product development and community engagements.
LEAF was made up of two complementary groups of diverse people across Australia:
All members of the LEAF represented lived experience, and did not represent the views of any specific organisation or political group.
A core LEAF activity was to design and lead the National Community Consultation. The National Community Consultation was created to engage with real people across diverse communities in Australia to understand how digital solutions might improve mental health outcomes. The learnings from these engagements then supported the development of the Innowell Platform and the Project Synergy Trials to make sure it effectively addresses the different needs of all people.
Download the Final National Community Consultation Report.
Jackie Crowe (1968 – 2017) was an exceptional human and a passionate advocate for mental health. A champion for people with lived experience, Jackie was the Founding Chair of the Lived Experience Advisory Board.
Trials 5 and 9 of Project Synergy were conducted in partnership with Open Arms – Veterans and Families Counselling service, with the Open Arms Sydney and Lismore Centres serving as the research sites. Open Arms is an Australia-wide service that provides counselling and support to current and ex-serving Australia Defence Force personnel, and their family members for mental health conditions (such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression) as well as relationship and family counselling.
The primary aim of this research was to co-design, develop, implement and evaluate the Innowell Platform to achieve improved outcomes for current and ex-serving personnel and their families as well as the Open Arms health professionals and service staff.
Concluded December 2020
Trial 6 of Project Synergy was conducted with five headspace centres located on the North Coast of NSW. The [North Coast Primary Health Network (NCPHN)](https://hnc.org.au/) commissions three lead agencies to deliver services from five headspace centres in its footprint:
These centres are entry points for youth to access mental health services based on their identified clinical symptoms and risk factors. The primary aim of this research was to enhance the quality and timeliness of mental health services for youth on the North Coast of NSW through technology-enabled solutions implemented within these headspace centres.
Concluded December 2020
Trial 10 of Project Synergy is being conducted in partnership with the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre. In order to identify the content and configuration requirements of the Innowell Platform for older adults, appropriate groups/ clinics at the Brain and Mind Centre, such as the Healthy Brain Ageing (HBA) Research Group, will be engaged for the purposes of co-designing a prototype of the Platform.
The primary aim of this research was to co-design and configure the Innowell Platform through co-design workshops and user testing with participants recruited through appropriate groups/ clinics at the Brain and Mind Centre (including partner organisations) to ensure the accessibility, engagement and appropriateness of the technology to best meet the needs of an older age group (50 years and older) and their supportive others (eg. family member, care-giver), as well as health professionals, service managers and administrators working with this population.
Concluded December 2020
Trial 7 of Project Synergy was conducted in partnership with The Butterfly Foundation. The Butterfly Foundation’s National Helpline is a free and confidential service which provides information, counselling and treatment referrals for eating disorders, disordered eating, body image and related issues via telephone, online chat or email.
The Helpline provides information, support and guidance on treatment options as well as referral pathways on an as needs basis, and is delivered as a brief intervention with no ongoing therapeutic engagement with those who contact the service. Commonly, the Helpline is the first contact point for a person with concerns about their eating and body image and those that have not experienced any type of treatment to date.
The primary aim of this research was to evaluate, prototype and configure a digital system for a non-traditional (online, phone, email) service providing support for eating disorders and body image issues through the use of co-design processes.
Concluded April 2020
Trial 11 of Project Synergy was conducted in partnership with [Kildare Road Medical Centre](https://www.kildaremedical.com.au/) and was focussed on supporting mental health care as it is delivered through Australian general practice. Kildare Road Medical Centre is committed to the provision of high quality care for its patients, by way of offering convenient on-site access to a wide range of medical services for comprehensive and coordinated care.
The overarching aim of this research was to configure and implement the Innowell Platform to support Kildare Road Medical Centre’s delivery of mental health care.
Concluded June 2020
Below are a list of Innowell research publications (listed alphabetically by author):
We recognise and pay respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, their ancestors, the Elders past, present and future from the different First Nations across Australia. We acknowledge the importance of connection to land, culture, spirituality, ancestry, family and community for the wellbeing of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and their families.
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