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7 April 2017, 07:09
Young people with conditions such as depression, autism or ADHD could get psychiatric help sooner through new online interviews.
It is hoped the approach being trialled will see children being referred to the most appropriate services more quickly and with less stress than the current system.
The new European trial, led by the University of Aberdeen, will run in the Scottish Highlands and Finland.
Researchers said it is widely acknowledged the need for child and adolescent psychiatry services in the UK is greater than can be provided, with long waiting times, limited capacity among primary care services and a heavy travel burden for patients, their families and outpatient specialists.
GPs say they do not have the time or training to accurately diagnose children and young people with such conditions and therefore potentially refer them to inappropriate support services, which means the referral process can be drawn out and stressful.
The new trial will see parents of children, their teachers and the child themselves if aged over 11 take secure, structured computer psychiatric interviews specially designed to build up a detailed psychiatric history of the patient and give an accurate diagnosis.
This online information will be assessed by a psychiatrist and a recommendation made about the right service for the child or young person.
It is hoped the new Development and Wellbeing Assessment (DAWBA) will result in children or young people being referred to the most appropriate services more quickly and with less stress, resulting in improvements in child mental health.
Professor Philip Wilson, head of the university's centre for rural health, said: "This is an important trial to test a new service which could ultimately lead to a slicker, more thorough and effective system for psychiatric referral for children and young people.
"The current system is inefficient at best and often results in families being sent from pillar to post due to inaccurate or non-comprehensive diagnosis. It's bad for the children and young people, for the parents and teachers, and the GP who has to manage a situation which is often drawn out and frustrating for all involved.
"It is our hope that the new system will contribute to improved and more equal access to timely outpatient psychiatry services, specialist evaluation and treatment according to best practice, improved capacity in primary care and more rational use of specialist services.''
The project is a major collaboration with partners in Finland, Sweden and Norway and is funded by the European Northern Periphery and Arctic Programme.
Researchers are recruiting 200 people in the Highlands, while a similar sized trial will be carried out in Finland.
Half of them will use the DAWBA system and 50% will receive the current treatment during the six-month trial.