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Digital Health

Research project

Program leader: Frank Muscara

Overview of team

Global demand for accessible, evidence-based and cost-effective healthcare is rising. Advances in technology together with its increasing use and declining costs have opened up valuable opportunities for its application in healthcare. The Digital Health team is focused on identifying new ideas and approaches to the incorporation of technology in the paediatric health setting, and aims to develop and evaluate digital health solutions, that can be implemented into clinical care at the Royal Children’s Hospital. 

Overview of individual projects that are currently/actively being worked on within the team

Banksia App study

Safety plans are an important intervention to mitigate suicide risk and self-harm. When patients are treated within the inpatient mental health ward, safety plans are completed on paper. Patients may keep the paper based safety plan visible in a specific location, hide it or lose it. This may result in the plan not being “at hand” when a crisis arises. Safety plans delivered through a smartphone application (app) may be more suitable than a paper version because it is more readily accessed and can easily be updated anywhere, at any time. The aim of this study is to assess the feasibility, acceptability and uptake of using a digitised safety plan and personalised tool box of strategies. A secondary aim is to explore any clinical benefits of the digital safety plan and tool box of strategies, such as reduced admission rates and improved suicide resilience.

Banksia Interview study

Given the potential opportunities and benefits of using technology to support patients and staff in mental health care and treatment, this qualitative study aims to explore what young people and parents/guardians think about the support they receive in hospital, and the support they would ideally like to get after leaving Banksia. It will also explore staff perceptions about the care they provide, and what ideal support and treatment of young people look like with Banksia, and following discharge. These interviews will explore whether and how technology might be used in a clinically meaningful and impactful way in a mental health inpatient setting and beyond 

Livewire study

Living with a chronic health condition and/or disability during adolescence can severely compromise physical, psychological, cognitive, emotional and social development. Young people in this situation have increased risks of experiencing negative psychosocial outcomes such as lower overall life satisfaction, poorer mental health, and lower self-efficacy. Peer support programs can protect adolescents against many of these risks, by enhancing self-esteem, social networks and wellbeing. Livewire, which was launched by the Starlight Foundation, is an online community for young people, and is an actively moderated, safe and secure space that is accessible to those at home or in hospital. The purpose of is to provide entertainment, connection and youth culture. While the program has been running successfully for many years, little formal research has been conducted to evaluate the program. This project aims to undertake a formative evaluation of the platform and determine the feasibility, acceptability, and mental health benefits of Livewire for young people aged 12-20 years.

Take a Breath study

A substantial proportion of parents whose child is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness experience high levels of distress that can lead to long-term mental health difficulties. Of concern, these families are geographically dispersed, with many living in rural, regional or interstate areas. This study evaluated the Take a Breath program, an online videoconferencing psychological program for parents, aimed at reducing and preventing long-term mental health issues in parents. Following positive findings, efforts are now underway to translate the program and implement it into clinical care for families requiring this support.

  1. List of key publications

Muscara, F. McCarthy, M.C., Rayner, M., Nicholson, J.M., Dimovski, A., McMillan, L., Hearps, S.J.C., Yamada, J., Burke, K., Walser, R., & Anderson, V.A. (under review) A randomized controlled trial of an online group intervention to reduce traumatic stress in parents of children with a life-threatening illness: The Take a Breath Study.

Rayner, M., Dimovski, A., Muscara, F., Yamada, J., Burke, K., McCarthy, M., Hearps, S.J.C., Anderson, V.A., Coe, A., Hayes, L., Walser, R., & Nicholson, J.M.  (2016). Participating from the comfort of your living room: Feasibility of a group videoconferencing intervention to reduce distress in parents of children with a serious illness or injury. Child and Family Behavior Therapy, 38 (3), 209-224. DOI: 10.1080/07317107.2016.1203145

Rayner, M., Muscara, F., Dimovski, A., McCarthy, M.C., Yamada, J., Anderson, V.A., Burke, K., Walser, R. & Nicholson, J.M. (2016) Take a Breath: Study protocol for a randomized controlled trial of an online group intervention to reduce traumatic stress in parents of children with a life threatening illness or injury. BMC Psychiatry, 16, 169

Team members

  • Louise Crossley, Research Officer and study coordinator, Brain and Mind
  • Olivia Ng, Research Officer and study coordinator, Brain and Mind
  • Ruby Pasquinelli, Clinical Masters Student, Brain and Mind/University of Melbourne
  • Sinh Lu, Student Intern, Brain and Mind
  • Jennifer Chow, Student Intern, Brain and Mind