Author(s): Gorini A, Gaggioli A, Vigna C, Riva G
The aim of the present paper is to describe the role played by three-dimensional (3-D) virtual worlds in eHealth applications, addressing some potential advantages and issues related to the use of this emerging medium in clinical practice. Due to the enormous diffusion of the World Wide Web (WWW), telepsychology, and telehealth in general, have become accepted and validated methods for the treatment of many different health care concerns. The introduction of the Web 2.0 has facilitated the development of new forms of collaborative interaction between multiple users based on 3-D virtual worlds. This paper describes the development and implementation of a form of tailored immersive e-therapy called p-health whose key factor is interreality, that is, the creation of a hybrid augmented experience merging physical and virtual worlds. We suggest that compared with conventional telehealth applications such as emails, chat, and videoconferences, the interaction between real and 3-D virtual worlds may convey greater feelings of presence, facilitate the clinical communication process, positively influence group processes and cohesiveness in group-based therapies, and foster higher levels of interpersonal trust between therapists and patients. However, challenges related to the potentially addictive nature of such virtual worlds and questions related to privacy and personal safety will also be discussed.