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MyRivr app connects vulnerable communities to services

Monday, 12 August 2019  
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Picture: Trust MyRivr chief executive Akerei Maresala Thomson speaking at the eMental Health symposium. editor Rebecca McBeth


An app that connects vulnerable communities to local health and social services plans to launch next month.


MyRivr allows users to search for and book appointments with more than 8000 health and social services across New Zealand.


Despite still being in beta version, the free app has been downloaded more than 5000 times and is accessed by 400–500 people a day.


It was developed in 2016 and is due to launch in September. Next month will also see the launch of MyRivr self-help kiosks located in public places so that people without access to smartphones or a data plan can use the technology.


Trust MyRivr chief executive Akerei Maresala Thomson spoke at an eMental Health symposium in Auckland on 31 July, where he told attendees the biggest problem is not lack of services, but lack of visibility and access to those services.


The concept for MyRivr arose when he was working for the NZ Police, leading a Youth Action Team as part of a government-led initiative focused on youth suicide and gangs.


A report commissioned in 2008 found that 86 per cent of service referrals for troubled youths came from hospitals or police.


The aim was to provide visibility and access to services before someone committed a crime or became the victim of one, as people weren’t aware of what help was available, Maresala said.


Another problem was that paper-based information was often out of date, so people were being sent to services that no longer existed or were far away from home.


“There was a whole section of the community not accessing services and who we knew very little about, so we thought, how do we enable and encourage communities to engage with simple technology to find services in their local area?”


MyRivr was developed to focus on prevention by providing better visibility of available services and also allows users to provide feedback.


“It’s like the Airbnb of health and social services,” he explained.


“We want it to be consumer-centric and driven by consumers.”


The app also includes artificial intelligence chatbot technology in the form of a health navigator.


“The biggest game changer is the data we are collecting,” Maresala said.


“Every workshop we run we can see how many people are downloading the app and what services they are looking at. It’s much more practical than giving out flyers.”


Maresala said there is a perception that men do not ask for help, but data from the app shows that half of those people asking for help are men; however, they are significantly more likely to be rejected by services.


He said the app will continue to exist as a free resource for the community, as “we believe that visibility and access to support is a basic human right”.


More than 90 per cent of funding for MyRivr comes from two US-based philanthropic organisations.


If you would like to provide feedback on this news story please contact the editor Rebecca McBeth.


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