E-health combines digital information and communication to support and/or improve health and healthcare. E-health is a broad concept and can be used throughout the healthcare sector. Mental health services also use e-health, which we call e-mental health. In other words, e-mental health involves the combination of digital information and communication to support and improve mental health services. This might take the form of health apps, websites which provide health-related information and video calls with a healthcare provider. But it also includes the use of IT for support processes, such as digital registration and dossier creation, although we won’t go into this here. E-health can play a role throughout the entire healthcare chain. It can be used for prevention, diagnostics, treatment, impact assessment and aftercare.
E-mental health applications can be used to alleviate complaints. They can also be used to help to prevent psychological disorders. E-mental health aimed at prevention comes in various guises, such as websites offering psychoeducation, self-tests and treatment plans both with and without the guidance of a mental health professional. For example, there are various apps and online self-help programmes available to help people to reduce their alcohol consumption. By offering accessible forms of online help at an early stage, it is possible to prevent new symptoms and complaints from developing into serious problems.
“E-mental health can be used to help to prevent psychological disorders.”
Questionnaires and structured interviews are often used to measure the nature and severity of mental health problems. E-mental health can support this psycho-diagnostic process. A diagnostician can use digital versions of general lists of complaints or specialist questionnaires. The questionnaires are then offered online via an e-health platform. The healthcare provider can send the client an invitation via the platform to fill in questionnaires; the client then receives an e-mail with a direct link to them. After submitting the questionnaire, the scores are calculated automatically and the healthcare provider can often choose from various norm groups. This provides an instant indication of how the client scores in relation to this norm group. Results are also displayed graphically, so they are much easier to interpret.
E-mental health can be used to treat people with psychological problems. E-mental health for treatment comprises treatment plans such as a sleep programme or a depression programme, among other things. Treatment plans often include a combination of psychoeducation, exercises, advice and tests. Treatment plans can be offered with or without the intervention of a healthcare provider. When e-mental health was introduced at the beginning of this century, the focus was on self-help programmes (i.e., without the intervention of a healthcare provider). However, without this assistance, compliance was low and many clients discontinued their treatment halfway through. In recent years, a clear preference has emerged for a combination of regular face-to-face care and e-mental health. This form of e-mental health is also called blended care. Blended care is a combination of face-to-face sessions and online components, neither of which are stand-alone elements, but are in fact connected to each other. The online interventions are carefully selected and adapted to the treatment. They are flexible and versatile. Blended care treatment plans can be either entirely or partially accompanied by a healthcare provider. It is also possible to use specific e-health interventions to support regular treatment, such as a video explaining a particular treatment method or disorder, a mindfulness exercise or a form for keeping a digital journal.