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Research in the spotlight: chronic pain and ehealth

chronic pain

The third researcher in our series ‘Research in the spotlight’ is Rocio Herrero, a young, ambitious researcher from South America, working at the University Jaume I in Spain. Herrero works in clinical psychology, including work on chronic pain, depression and anxiety. She currently focusses on the use of technology and ehealth in the treatment of these problems. In this interview, Rocio Herrero illustrates the impact of her research and her vision of the future of ehealth.

‘Online treatment helped patients to stay well much longer’

Herrero and her team have created and researched an online treatment for patients with chronic pain. ‘The focus of this treatment was to try to increase coping strategies for patients who have both chronic pain and depression. The two are very closely linked,’ Herrero explains. She has been working on this for 4 years, and is delighted with the outcomes. Patients in her research who followed the online treatment did not only get better, they also stayed well for a much longer time than with traditional treatments. ‘They remembered a lot of what they had learnt in our treatment. With the technology, we made them feel better for a long time,’ beams Herrero.

'It made them feel better for a long time'

Helping students to cope with stress in Horizon 2020 ICare

Besides her research around chronic pain, Herrero is also working on the Resilience trial and the School trial, both of which are aimed at young people: students and school pupils.

‘In the Resilience trial we’re trying to help students to cope with the stresses that are very common at the beginning of university life,’ she explains. ‘Students move away from their families, they have to become more responsible for their own lives, and the academic level is higher than in school. They need to cope with a lot of new, potentially stressful things. So we are focussing on coping strategies in this trial.’

'We help students to cope with difficult situations, emotions and stress.'

Improving body image among school pupils

The School trial focusses on improving body image and preventing eating disorders among secondary school pupils. ‘Like in the Resilience trial, we help students learn to cope with life’s challenges, difficult situations, emotions and stress. We aim to reduce the development of disorders.’ The trials started in 2017. Herrero expects to publish results by the end of 2018.

These trials are part of the European ICare project. In ICare, scientists from several European universities work together on the implementation and comparison of online care for prevention, early recognition and treatment of common mental health problems.

Recommendations for amending the perception of ehealth in Spain

Herrero sees the effects of technology in health: she is positive about its possibilities to help people. But that positivity is not reflected by the status of ehealth in Spain. ‘It’s very bad at the moment’, Herrero sighs. ‘People are not quite willing to use it. They expect the professional to help them, almost take away their problems. They don’t really expect that they have to work actively on themselves. So my idea is that when they hear of ehealth, they think it’s impersonal and that it can’t help them,’ Herrero explains.

chronic pain and ehealth

She sees this as a challenge to overcome: ‘We will have to work on personalisation of the treatment. Patients have to feel there is someone who worries about them and about what happens to them.’ This will help to improve engagement with ehealth among Spanish patients, thinks Herrero.

The future: ‘Health technology is a powerful tool’

Despite the challenges, Herrero sees technology asa powerful tool to deal with all kinds of mental problems. ‘I think it can especially have huge impact in the prevention of these problems. The health technology sector will definitely continue to grow. I also believe politicians should emphasise the power of ehealth in healthcare.’

Herrero describes to us the world of her research dreams. ‘Researchers really have to think about what is happening with real people, the patients. Sometimes things in research are so strict, such as age ranges for participants or types of complaints. It’s a bit unrealistic. What we’re doing is very valuable, but if you ask me, the real problems and situations of real people should be taken more into account.’

Want to know more?

Please see the project’s website for more information. If you want to know more about ehealth, contact us!

Did you enjoy this blog? Then the other interviews in this series might interest you as well:

  • Frank Snoek, about and his research on chronic somatic diseases and ehealth
  • Ina Breintner, who researches eating disorders and online prevention