An app that allows mental health nurses to save young clients’ texts and calls directly to their clinical record is now a step closer.

Called Ask Ruru, the app, which logs text messages and calls made between a community mental health clinician and a young person in crisis, is into its second round of development.

Created by Capital & Coast District Health Board nurse Dion Howard, the idea for the app grew out of his own work with youth. “There are limitations that make communication within the sector quite rigid. Letters, faxes and emails seem to be the way we communicate,” he says.

However young people can find those ‘old school’ forms of communication hard to respond to. “Even phone calls: if it’s not a number they know, they won’t answer it.”
Howard believes the solution is using text messaging, so he went about creating an app that uses this now ubiquitous way of communicating.

“SMS [text messaging] is really effective. People don’t think of SMS as an app, but it is. However, the downfall is that texts doesn’t translate easily into clinical records.” He says staff have even resorted to photocopying their phone screen to get a physical copy of a text conversation to add to patient records.

Howard’s prototype app enables workers to insert into messages the crisis and mental wellbeing skills they have previously discussed with clients and ensures that text message information can be easily transferred to a patient’s health record.

“The app has pre-configured protocols inserted into it, but it also allows for a personal response. There’s also a library of short videos to support staff.”

The name Ask Ruru is based on the Māori word for the morepork. “Owls are wise and people told us that when they hear the morepork they felt reassured. Those are the values we want our clinicians to mimic.”

Howard says the app is specifically designed for health professionals, not youth. “We have an emphasis on wisdom and reaching out to your ‘wise person’. Sometimes it’s a therapist or a medical health professional. This [app] gives the professionals the right tools at their fingertips.”

Turning a good nursing idea into an app

Howard first took his idea for the app to the Health Informatics New Zealand’s (HiNZ) Wellington Hackathon in 2015.

A hackathon weekend begins on a Friday night with people from clinicians to software developers giving a short pitch for a healthcare technology idea and then forming teams to work on a project solution to present to a judging panel on the Sunday afternoon. Developers Jaymesh Master, Michael Smith and Rosie Parry came on board with Howard’s pitch and his team won the Hackathon.

Late last year Ask Ruru was runner-up in the Active Project category of the 2017 Clinicians’ Challenge – a joint Ministry of Health and HiNZ initiative that seeks innovative healthcare technology.

The $2,000 prize money is being put into developing the app further, says Howard. “A second round of development is underway now and we’re ensuring it meets the Ministry of Health’s digital safety standards.” Howard is hoping to get approval from Capital & Coast DHB to test the app as a user case study shortly.

He says other nurses and health professionals should not be afraid to test out new ideas. “In the information technology sector there’s a very strong practice about user-centred design. It’s never the user’s fault. That approach could be used to innovate the health sector.”

He encourages other nurses to put their hands up with ideas. “Don’t be afraid. At the Clinicians’ Challenge, the people there weren’t all technical people. They were people who had a problem they needed to solve.”

His work developing the app has also helped him see things more impartially. “If you build a website and nobody clicks on it, it’s because the user doesn’t want it or they don’t know how to use it. It’s been an interesting way to approach things.”

Howard says his ultimate aim is to see Ask Ruru used internationally.
“We’re excited to build on the name recognition that has come through the Challenge and Hackathon and get people using Ask Ruru in their work supporting young people in mental health crisis.”


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