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Brain in Hand: coming in handy for neurodivergent people

11 Mar 2021 (Last Updated March 11th, 2021 14:58)

Brain in Hand, a self-management platform for people with autism and learning difficulties, has been named one of 12 organisations joining the NHS Innovation Accelerator (NIA). Medical Device Network speaks to Brain in Hand chief innovation officer Heather Cook about what the platform has to offer users and its plans for the rest of the year.

Brain in Hand: coming in handy for neurodivergent people
Brain in Hand has simple self-management features which can be accessed on a phone, tablet or computer whenever users need. Credit: Shutterstock

For neurodivergent people, everyday tasks like remembering things, making decisions and planning ahead can be far more difficult than for those who are neurotypical. While most of the population find these things fairly straightforward and easy to process, people who are autistic, or have learning difficulties or mental health issues, can struggle to keep on top of them.

This is where Brain in Hand comes in. The company’s eponymous platform aims to help neurodivergent people with self-management tasks, through liaison with a qualified specialist, dedicated web and mobile software and round-the-clock support.

The organisation was recently named one of 12 joining the NHS Innovation Accelerator (NIA), after director of partnerships Heather Cook was awarded a fellowship. The scheme provides the opportunity to engage with policy makers and leading influencers and gain a deeper understanding of the needs, challenges, and possibilities for digitally enabled care across the health and social care system.

Cook says: “We focus on helping people keep their day on track – that might mean negotiating public transport to get to work, having strategies for coping with a noisy workplace or establishing daily routines. Each user’s needs are different – we personalise support to meet their needs. With our system, users can be prompted with solutions they have created themselves when they encounter moments of struggle.”

What features does Brain in Hand have to offer users?

When users sign up to Brain in Hand, they receive specialist one-to-one support to work out their goals, recognise their strengths and develop solutions to help overcome challenges they face.

They’re then given access to a fully integrated system that combines human support with technology that helps them choose how they wish to receive assistance. This could be through accessing their own coping strategies embedded in the software, virtual messaging or human support from a dedicated response service or someone in their community.

The web-based software has simple self-management features that can help users to cope with anxiety, remember tasks, plan ahead and make decisions, which they can access on a phone, tablet or computer whenever they need.

The platform also offers round-the-clock support to its users. If someone needs extra help, they can use a traffic light system to let someone know they’re struggling, whether this is a Brain in Hand responder or someone they already know.

The platform also provides tools to reflect on new issues and difficult events, helping users to identify new coping strategies and fostering greater independence.

“Technology has huge potential to enable neurodiverse people to live independently,” says Cook, “to help them manage the everyday barriers that can make going to college, getting a job and enjoying a social life very difficult.

“We believe that using technologies like Brain in Hand can significantly improve people’s quality of life and enable scarce public resources to go further, especially at a time like this when support needs to be delivered virtually and adapted to the difficulties thrown up by the pandemic.”

How will the NIA fellowship be used?

The NIA gives those involved the opportunity to work on the barriers that are preventing digital technologies from making the impact they otherwise could, allowing them to scale more widely across the health and social care system.

Cook plans to focus on three main themes as part of the programme: the opportunity for Brain in Hand to be deployed at scale; developing relationships with clinical leaders and exploring their views on the potential for digital transformation of support systems; and engaging with NHSX and NHS Digital on the impact of emerging governance arrangements for digital solutions.

“Brain in Hand is a practical support system designed to help users achieve goals and prevent crisis. However, existing funding models do not lend themselves easily to this anticipatory care approach and so present some barriers to the adoption of digital technology,” she says.

“I would like to explore ways that the innovator’s perspective can be better understood by those championing digital adoption.”

This fellowship marks the second major achievement of Brain in Hand in recent months, after its successful Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) Healthcare phase 2 award of £800,000 in November. The firm hopes that being part of the NIA programme will help it achieve a wider-scale deployment within the NHS, reaching more people that could benefit from its services.