Challenges for e-mental health implementation in NWE countries
Within the last two years, the eMEN project partners have conducted 39 interviews with relevant stakeholders from Belgium, France, Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK. The aim of these interviews was to gather insights into the e-mental health developments in eMEN partner countries (e.g. national agendas, jurisdiction) and to identify the main challenges when it comes to implementing e-mental health. The outcomes of these interviews were used as input for the eMEN Transnational Policy document, which is currently being finalised. While the following paragraphs do not necessarily provide the full picture, they give an insight into stakeholders’ expectations, concerns and ideas with regard to e-mental health.
Overall, the group of interviewees were well balanced, with health professionals, SMEs (small and medium enterprises developing e-mental health technologies) and policy-makers being the most frequently consulted groups (see figure below for more details).
A glance into stakeholders’ perceptions
What is maybe surprising is that irrespective of the country or the profession, there was a great number of common barriers that were mentioned in the interviews, with the following being the most frequently mentioned:
lack of knowledge, limited awareness and acceptance of e-mental health,
lack of a regulatory and operational framework (incl. a comprehensive strategy and vision on how to integrate e-mental health),
lack of quality criteria, guidelines or other standards,
And the question of how to embed e-mental health effectively in existing structures.
Health professionals, in particular, raised concerns with regard to privacy and data storage and emphasized - as did others - that training and education for (future) mental health professionals is essential. Furthermore, the majority of stakeholder groups stressed that e-mental health may be too impersonal. The human factor in particular but also the therapeutic relationship were mentioned as important concepts with regard to mental health care and should never be neglected.
SMEs discussed that the prevailing circumstances may hamper innovative developments and emphasised the necessity of having a supportive policy and regulatory environment for e-mental health development.
Despite these challenges and open questions, it became clear in all stakeholder interviews that e-mental health has the potential to add value to mental health care throughout Europe. E-mental health may not only reach those who would not seek help in traditional health services, but also improve access, or enforce the self-empowerment of patients – to mention a few important features.
In order to successfully embed e-mental health into routine care, stakeholders suggested fostering and investing in transparent e-mental health information campaigns. This could be supplemented by the development of a regulatory framework that not only ensures that e-mental health meets certain quality criteria but also establishes a stable financial environment. Robust research on efficacy and effectiveness needs to support these efforts and will provide reliable knowledge of how to effectively align e-mental health with existing mental health care structures. Moreover, all interviewed stakeholders agreed that the usability of e-mental health solutions is a prerequisite, and that customised and targeted development processes need to be in place.
The stakeholder interviews confirm that the challenges to e-mental health implementation overlap to a great extent in eMEN partner countries. Thus, a combination of national and European guidelines, visions and objectives may accelerate the implementation of e-mental health.
The eMEN Transnational Policy document aims to enhance e-mental health implementation by addressing the main barriers, identifying and assessing ideas and proposing common areas for action on European and national level.