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BACKGROUND: During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Oxford Precision Psychiatry Lab (OxPPL) developed open-access web-based summaries of mental health care guidelines (OxPPL guidance) in key areas such as digital approaches and telepsychiatry, suicide and self-harm, domestic violence and abuse, perinatal care, and vaccine hesitancy and prioritization in the context of mental illness, to inform timely clinical decision-making. OBJECTIVE: This study aimed to evaluate the practice of creating evidence-based health guidelines during health emergencies using the OxPPL guidance as an example. An international network of clinical sites and colleagues (in Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom) including clinicians, researchers, and experts by experience aimed to (1) evaluate the clinical impact of the OxPPL guidance, as an example of an evidence-based summary of guidelines; (2) review the literature for other evidence-based summaries of COVID-19 guidelines regarding mental health care; and (3) produce a framework for response to future global health emergencies. METHODS: The impact and clinical utility of the OxPPL guidance were assessed using clinicians' feedback via an international survey and focus groups. A systematic review (protocol registered on Open Science Framework) identified summaries or syntheses of guidelines for mental health care during and after the COVID-19 pandemic and assessed the accuracy of the methods used in the OxPPL guidance by identifying any resources that the guidance had not included. RESULTS: Overall, 80.2% (146/182) of the clinicians agreed or strongly agreed that the OxPPL guidance answered important clinical questions, 73.1% (133/182) stated that the guidance was relevant to their service, 59.3% (108/182) said that the guidelines had or would have a positive impact on their clinical practice, 42.9% (78/182) that they had shared or would share the guidance, and 80.2% (146/182) stated that the methodology could be used during future health crises. The focus groups found that the combination of evidence-based knowledge, clinical viewpoint, and visibility was crucial for clinical implementation. The systematic review identified 2543 records, of which 2 syntheses of guidelines met all the inclusion criteria, but only 1 (the OxPPL guidance) used evidence-based methodology. The review showed that the OxPPL guidance had included the majority of eligible guidelines, but 6 were identified that had not been included. CONCLUSIONS: The study identified an unmet need for web-based, evidence-based mental health care guidance during the COVID-19 pandemic. The OxPPL guidance was evaluated by clinicians as having a real-world clinical impact. Robust evidence-based methodology and expertise in mental health are necessary, but easy accessibility is also needed, and digital technology can materially help. Further health emergencies are inevitable and now is the ideal time to prepare, including addressing the training needs of clinicians, patients, and carers, especially in areas such as telepsychiatry and digital mental health. For future planning, guidance should be widely disseminated on an international platform, with allocated resources to support adaptive updates.

Original publication




Journal article


JMIR Ment Health

Publication Date





COVID-19, digital health, eHealth, evidence synthesis, focus group, guidelines, mental health, mobile phone, pandemic, survey, systematic review