Logo buddy

Therapy services in a digital world

Buddy is a digital tool to support therapy services. A SMS-powered diary helps to reinforce positive behaviours.

A Problem That Matters

6 million people in the UK suffer from mental health illness at any one time. 1 in 4 of us in our lifetime will experience it. Creating untold misery for individuals, their families, communities and society at large. The challenge was (and is) that not enough people can access NHS services. Whilst the ones that do, often find themselves becoming dependent on the service and unable to move on. We were interested in how we could use networked tools, personal data and user-centred design to break this cycle of dependency.

A Little-Big Idea

We felt there were three problems to solve. To help patients connect in real-time with professionals. To focus on wellness instead of illness. And to create telecare products that people really wanted in their homes - preferably without screens. This was our first concept. A 'connected mirror'. Every morning, the user would choose from a list of mood statements at the bottom of the device, press the send button, and it would immediately share their mood update with everyone in their network, via email, sms, twitter or any other platform. Like magic.

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Iterate-Prototype

We tested the Connected Mirror concept with service users, and quickly dismissed it. Many service users when they're having an episode don't like mirrors. We switched instead to the idea of Connected Radios. Working radios, which would have additional mood monitoring functionality. Users would turn a dial to select their mood on a scale, and then hit a button to share with their network. We had changed the concept, but the principals of screen-free technology, real-time communication and social communication were still in tact.

Build-Measure-Learn

We built working prototypes of the radio and put them in the homes of service users, who became our co-designers. We learnt a lot. Mainly, that the solution didn't work. A physical product wasn't convenient. Users didn't just want to record their moods but they wanted to also record why they felt that way i.e. what they were doing at the time. Social networks could be useful but always-on sharing was vexed and ultimately, not desirable. It was time to the think again.

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Just Enough Technology

What we learnt was that people liked the simplicity of the physical device, but it wasn't convenient enough for them. Instead of focusing on a smartphone solution, we chose to re-architect the system using basic SMS, which would allow users to record their mood, but also record what they were doing at the time, and set goals and reminders that could help prompt new behaviours (rather than simply focusing on the past). From a clinician's point of view, we rebuilt the experience so it moved away from real-time communication to improving the time in therapy sessions. The focus was on just enough technology to improve the patient-professional relationship.

Measure

We then conducted an independent evaluation of Buddy, in a ten week trial with ten service users using the new SMS based system. The results were very positive with 76% of text messages replied to, 30% of participants reporting an increase in wellbeing and a 10% increase in session attendances. This gave us confidence in the solution. In startup parlance, we felt we had problem-solution fit. We could see the value it gave to patients and professionals. But as yet, we didn't feel we had the right solution for managers - who would be the customer.

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Eric morris clinical psyc 008

Product-Market Fit

All the way through the product development process, we were conducting broad customer development, and after the ten week trial we finally found our market fit in the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services. This was a care setting with the right volumes of users, therapists with the right mindsets, and commissioners with relevant service outcomes to achieve. Buddy has since been rolled out to 12 locations nationally and continues to grow. Visit www.buddyapp.org to find out more.

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