Catarina I. Reis (Polytechnic Institute of Leiria, Portugal), Carla S. Freire (Polytechnic Institute of Leiria, Portugal) and Josep M. Monguet (Polytechnical University of Catalonia, Spain)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-670-4.ch042
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Nowadays, information and communication technologies (ICT) are being used in the mental health field to improve the quality of the services provided. Several studies refer both advantages and disadvantages for these practices. E-therapy appears as a new way to help people in their life and existing relationships, and there is proven evidence that online therapy helps, for instance, to reduce depression symptoms. It is also seen as a complement of the technological and traditional techniques, to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the therapeutic process. As a matter of fact, some people tend to be more comfortable with the computer than in face-to-face therapy. Besides patients and physicians, other direct players could be found in this domain, namely, families and caregivers. All players will be directly affected by the use of existing services and thus, a correct assessment of the effectiveness of e-therapy solutions and studies is required. eSchi is a multimedia portal that enables an e-therapy setting for schizophrenia patients. Currently under development, the system is described and future trends in the area are depicted.
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E-health, or electronic health, describes the provision of health services over a wide range of electronic amenities, like electronic health records or health information networks. According to Le (Le, 2007) this term covers two large areas: health informatics – related to applications and databases that can record data to conduct analysis and to provide support to health care; and telehealth – related to the delivery of health information or care to a recipient, e.g. videoconferencing.

Telehealth, also known as telemedicine, means medicine at a distance and thus it’s not a new concept. Guler (Guler & Ubeyli, 2002) refers the use of the analogue telephone to transmit electrocardiograms (ECGs) and electroencephalograms (EEGs) in the beginning of the twentieth century; National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has used remote monitoring of astronauts since 1960 (Guler & Ubeyli, 2002) and some (Myron & Irene, 2004) state NASA as the pioneer in the area. It is difficult to state a specific date to the beginning of telemedicine; imperative is to refer that new information and communication technologies have brought a new breath to this concept. Nowadays, telemedicine can be defined as the use of ICT to provide medical information and services, like health information, assessment, diagnosis, education and other services across geographical distance (Guler & Ubeyli, 2002), (Myron & Irene, 2004), (Castelnuovo, Gaggioli, Mantovani, & Riva, 2003). According to this definition it is possible to state that the fundamental concepts of telemedicine are related to basic principles of telecommunications and Internet-working of computer systems: the use of communication software, like email and web browsers; and forms of telecommunication like videoconferencing, remote data monitoring and file transfers (Guler & Ubeyli, 2002). ICT is changing so fast (Le, 2007) that new products and services are becoming available all the time (Guler & Ubeyli, 2002).

The application of telemedicine requires the integration of new tools (Guler & Ubeyli, 2002) so people involved have to go through an acculturation process. This, according to Le (Le, 2007) “is a process in which people of a different cultural and social discourse have adapted to accommodate a new discourse” (p. 1195) and can bring positive or negative experiences. To aid the acculturation process it is important to train and educate people involved. Indeed, they do not have to become experts to use telemedicine systems, but they must be ready to use them (Guler & Ubeyli, 2002), (Castelnuovo, Gaggioli, Mantovani, & Riva, 2003a), (Kanani & Regehr, 2003).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Internet: An electronic communications network that connects computer networks and organizational computer facilities around the world.

ICT: (Information and Communications Technology - or Technologies) is an umbrella term that includes any communication device or application, encompassing: radio, television, cellular phones, computer and network hardware and software, satellite systems and so on, as well as the various services and applications associated with them, such as videoconferencing and distance learning.

Therapy: A therapeutic treatment; remedial treatment of mental or bodily disorder; a treatment designed or serving to bring about rehabilitation or social adjustment.

Cognition: Refers to someone’s attention, awareness, memory (long-, intermediate-, and short-term), general knowledge, abstract thinking ability, insight, and judgment.

E-Therapy: Provisioning of mental health services via e-mail, video conferencing, virtual reality technology, chat technology, or any combination of these mediums.

Effectiveness: Producing a decided, decisive, or desired effect (intent or purpose).

Mental Health: The condition of being sound mentally and emotionally that is characterized by the absence of mental disorder (as neurosis or psychosis) and by adequate adjustment especially as reflected in feeling comfortable about oneself, positive feelings about others, and ability to meet the demands of life.

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