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Monday, 20 September 2021 23:43

Lifeline partners with Microsoft to apply data to suicide prevention

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Microsoft announced today it is supporting Lifeline, Australia's leading suicide prevention service, to securely analyse and share curated, anonymised data with mental health researchers. The solution was implemented by Microsoft partner, Data Addiction.

Lifeline takes a call every 30 seconds and provides round-the-clock access to trained volunteers who will objectively listen to Australians suffering severe distress and depression, committed to keeping them safe. However, nine people still die per day in Australia from suicide - over double the road toll.

Lifeline has experienced a 25% increase in the volume of calls across Australia since the delta variant COVID-19 surge in cases began this July, putting states into lockdown.

Lifeline is continually working to improve outcomes and has recognised the enormous value of data in developing the deepest understanding of the issues facing people in crisis, and what sort of support can work best with specific cohorts of people.

Lifeline selected Azure as its data platform as part of a broader digital transformation project, following Microsoft’s modern data architecture guidelines to implement a solution that simultaneously allows secured authorised researchers while ensuring client privacy.

These researchers span the Blackdog Institute, the University of NSW, and the University of Canberra. The solution has been implemented by Microsoft partner Data Addiction, using Power Apps to collect anonymised call data, crafting a secure cloud-based data lake, and in time, will include voice-to-text transcription.

This work is all aimed at improving the outcomes for people who use Lifeline’s services in times of crisis by empowering its 5,000 volunteers with the best tools to support those they speak with whether by phone or online.

While the research hub sits in Microsoft Azure, it has been designed so researchers can use their choice of reporting and analytics tools. This is important, says Mark West, head of Lifeline’s architecture and insights team. “If I’m getting my house fixed, I don’t expect the plumbers to turn up then tell them which tool to use, to do what. So it’s really about empowering them, working in partnership with the researchers to allow them to get on and do their job, but knowing that we have anonymised the data, and we have categorised that data and selected the data and handed that into that research hub so that it is safe and secure.”

MarkWest

Image: Mark West

Data Addiction's work also provides predictive data analytics for Lifeline, potentially giving insight into when demand for services might spike, thus ensuring Lifeline can sufficiently staff its centres to meet the needs of its callers.

Dr Anna Brooks, heading the Lifeline Research Foundation, explained the demand for services has grown substantially in recent years, from the 2019 - 2020 bushfires and the ongoing pandemic. “There’s been no more important time, I would say, for Lifeline to be making sure that we are there for people,” she said.

AnnaBrooks

Image: Dr Anna Brooks

“Being able to put in place the processes that enable us to answer calls and answer them quickly when those calls are coming in much thicker and faster has been a challenge. This is why working with organisations such as Data Addiction has just been so important to us. We really want to make sure that we’re able to answer those calls and answer them quickly and with maximum positive impact.”

Data Addiction developed the new Power App within six days, specifically designing it to support Lifeline call coaching and data collection, providing advice to Lifeline crisis supporters about how to best support people.

According to Brooks; “We have gathered together some of the best minds in handling these types of data in Australia and arguably internationally, to work with us, to essentially mine the data, to see what we can learn about the types of contacts we receive if there are patterns of people who reach out to us,” Brooks said.

Ben Johnson, managing director, Data Addiction says; “We’re about using data to help make a difference. And what better example than hopefully trying to help an organisation like Lifeline achieve its goal and save people’s lives? Between the data that we’ve captured from the app that we’ve built, and also the data that we’ll capture from recordings in time, let’s give the smartest people in Australia access to the data that can potentially make the difference in preventing people from dying by suicide. Also in the process, let’s make sure that we support the volunteers.”

BenJohnson

Image: Ben Johnson

Providing secure access to authorised researchers was a priority, according to Sunny Rehill, principal, Data Addiction. “This is the most sensitive data that you can come across, it’s more sensitive than credit card data because it’s people baring their souls,” he said. “We’ve been able to do that by leveraging off the Azure stack, using the Windows Virtual Desktop environment to ensure that we can have a robust, secure mechanism for the researchers to be able to tap into that data. And we can rest assured, they can’t extract that data without proper checks and measures.”

SunnyRehill

Image: Sunny Rehill

Lifeline's DNA is human connection, supporting people in their toughest moments. The work described here applies the power of data analytics to literally save lives through better insights, better understanding, and leading to better outcomes.

Lifeline can be reached via 13 11 14 or at lifeline.org.au


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David M Williams

David has been computing since 1984 where he instantly gravitated to the family Commodore 64. He completed a Bachelor of Computer Science degree from 1990 to 1992, commencing full-time employment as a systems analyst at the end of that year. David subsequently worked as a UNIX Systems Manager, Asia-Pacific technical specialist for an international software company, Business Analyst, IT Manager, and other roles. David has been the Chief Information Officer for national public companies since 2007, delivering IT knowledge and business acumen, seeking to transform the industries within which he works. David is also involved in the user group community, the Australian Computer Society technical advisory boards, and education.

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