Background: For the World Health Organization, electronic health (eHealth) is seen as an effective way to improve therapeutic practices and disease prevention in health. Digital tools lead to major changes in the field of mental medicine, but specific analyses are required to understand and accompany these changes.
Objective: Our objective was to highlight the positions of the different stakeholders of the mental health care system on eHealth services and tools, as well as to establish professional and user group profiles of these positions and the uses of these services.
Methods: In order to acquire the opinions and expectations of different categories of people, we carried out a qualitative study based on 10 focus groups (n=70, from 3-12 people per group) composed of: general practitioners, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, occupational therapists, nurses, caregivers, mental health services users, user representatives, and the general public. The analyses of focus group discussions were performed independently by four investigators through a common analysis grid. The constant comparative method was adopted within this framework.
Results: The interviewees expressed different problems that new technologies engender in the field of mental health. What was previously strictly under the jurisdiction of physicians now tends to be fragmented and distributed over different groups and locations. New technologies reposition care in the field of domestic, rather than therapeutic, activities, and thus the conception of care as an autonomous activity in the subject’s life is questioned. The ideal of social autonomy through technology is part of the new logic of health democracy and empowerment, which is linked to a strong, contemporary aspiration to perform. Participants emphasized that there was the potential risk of a decrease in autonomy for the digitally engaged patient, while personal empowerment could become a set of obligations.
Conclusions: This qualitative research highlights the heterogeneity of opinions among the groups and within each group. It suggests that opinions on electronic mental health devices are still far from being stabilized, and that a change management process should be set up to both regulate the development and facilitate the use of these tools.