Online Mental Health Resources in Rural Australia: Clinician Perceptions of Acceptability
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Background: Online mental health resources have been proposed as an innovative means of overcoming barriers to accessing rural mental health services. However, clinicians tend to express lower satisfaction with online mental health resources than do clients. Objective: To understand rural clinicians’ attitudes towards the acceptability of online mental health resources as a treatment option in the rural context. Methods: In-depth interviews were conducted with 21 rural clinicians (general practitioners, psychologists, psychiatrists, and clinical social workers). Interviews were supplemented with rural-specific vignettes, which described clinical scenarios in which referral to online mental health resources might be considered. Symbolic interactionism was used as the theoretical framework for the study, and interview transcripts were thematically analyzed using a constant comparative method.Results: Clinicians were optimistic about the use of online mental health resources into the future, showing a preference for integration alongside existing services, and use as an adjunct rather than an alternative to traditional approaches. Key themes identified included perceptions of resources, clinician factors, client factors, and the rural and remote context. Clinicians favored resources that were user-friendly and could be integrated into their clinical practice. Barriers to use included a lack of time to explore resources, difficulty accessing training in the rural environment, and concerns about the lack of feedback from clients. Social pressure exerted within professional clinical networks contributed to a cautious approach to referring clients to online resources. Conclusions: Successful implementation of online mental health resources in the rural context requires attention to clinician perceptions of acceptability. Promotion of online mental health resources to rural clinicians should include information about resource effectiveness, enable integration with existing services, and provide opportunities for renegotiating the socially defined role of the clinician in the eHealth era.
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