Blue Line

TECHNOLOGY – Mental health assessment tool goes digital

May 25, 2016  By Tom Rataj

723 words – MR

Mental health assessment tools go digital

by Tom Rataj

Dealing with persons with serious mental disorders (PSMD) is an ever increasing part of the job for many front-line police officers. Police are often called when they experience a crisis and pose an apparent threat to the public or themselves.


Although the vast majority of interactions are resolved peacefully, a few high-profile incidents end with the person in crisis seriously injured or killed. The resulting coroner’s inquests often produce recommendations for more mental-health training, de-escalation techniques and better less-lethal equipment.

Officers responding to such incidents are often called upon to make rapid mental-health assessments, frequently followed by an apprehension and trip to the local mental health facility or hospital. Waits of three or more hours for a physician assessment are not uncommon.

Despite better police training in the past few years, field assessments are not always accurate enough to have the person committed at the hospital, resulting in many out-of-service hours with little valuable outcome beyond the initial crisis intervention.

{Digital help arrives}

Fortunately a field assessment tool is now available in a digital format. As demonstrated at the 2016 the computerised HealthIM Brief Mental Health Screener (BMHS) program puts a new tool into the hands of front line officers.

The easy to use program steps officers through a series of structured and progressive questions that take from three to six minutes to complete. They help officers assess the risks a person poses to themselves and others and their ability to care for themselves.

The results of the assessment are displayed on screen in easy to understand visual charts that help the officer make a complete and accurate decision faster and easier. The completed assessment report is in clinical language to better suit the needs of the healthcare professionals that will later use it.

The question and answer grading is based on work done by the international non-profit research organization interRAI (international Resident Assessment Instrument). The questions have been academically developed and peer-reviewed.

The software runs on Windows or Mac OSX computers and can be readily implemented by any agency already using mobile computers. The completed assessment report can be printed in the police vehicle if so equipped, or electronically transmitted to hospitals, health care facilities and local Community Mental Health Organisations (CMHOs) where arrangements have been established.

The report file size is small enough to be quickly transmitted over slow wireless connections. The data is encrypted prior to transmission to ensure security and privacy.

HealthIM can also be configured to automatically share data with most police records management systems (RMS) including NICHE and Versaterm, helping to prevent duplication of work and data entry and keeping the RMS up to date.


HealthIM has been field tested with the Niagara Regional and Brantford police services since 2013. Upgrades have been made based on user feedback and additional Ontario police services, including London, will implement the tool this summer.

HealthIM has been used in more than 2,000 incidents. Beyond helping officers make better and more confident judgements about their subjects, it has reduced hospital wait-times by 57 percent.

HealthIM recommends running a 90 day pilot project before implementation to help familiarise officers with the product and integrate it better with business practices and policies and procedures, which may need to be amended.

HealthIM works on an annual subscription model based on agency size and the number of mobile computers used. The BMHS data is encrypted and stored on the HealthIM server for further transmission or retrieval by previously approved mental healthcare providers and services. The HealthIM server is PIPEDA (Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act) compliant.

Additional functionality and analytics is provided for police management and training purposes. Data stripped of personal identifiers can be analysed in a variety of ways by the police service and interRAI as specified in the licence agreement.


HealthIM was developed by two University of Waterloo graduates specialising in healthcare informatics with a focus on developing software solutions for the healthcare field. Both have previously developed other software.

They worked in conjunction with interRAI, an international consortium of academic researchers focused on improving care for disabled and mentally ill persons by developing clinical assessment tools and advocating for common clinical language and the development of evidence-based healthcare policy.

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