A novel web-based tool for detecting unhealthy behaviors and mental health issues appears to be feasible, acceptable and easily integrated into patients’ electronic medical records.
Developed by researchers in New Zealand, the web-based eCHAT (electronic Case-Finding and Help Assessment Tool) screens patients for problematic drinking, smoking and other drug use, gambling, exposure to abuse, anxiety, depression, anger control and physical activity, and whether they want help with these issues.
In this study, the tool was self-administered on an iPad in the waiting room by 196 consecutive patients visiting two primary care practices in Auckland, New Zealand.
Most patients found the iPad easy to use and the questions easy to understand and appropriate. Feedback from clinical and office staff was also generally positive.
Domains where patients wanted immediate help were anxiety (9 percent), depression (7 percent), physical activity (6 percent) and smoking (5 percent). No patient requested help with more than one issue during the consultation, and physicians did not report being overwhelmed by the requests.
The authors conclude eCHAT appears to be an acceptable tool for systematic finding of cases of unhealthy behaviors and negative mood states in primary care, and they note that the help question posed by the tool empowers patients to control the direction of their consultation. They call for future research to determine whether using eCHAT will lead to improved health outcomes.