What Is eHealth?

Building public health information systems is part of the umbrella of eHealth. But what is eHealth exactly (except perhaps another buzzword)?

In its broadest defnition, eHealth refers to any initiative that uses information and communications technologies (ICT) to deliver health care services. From the California Telemedicine and eHealth Center:

The common goal of any TM/eH application is to increase access and ease of health care, especially for rural and underserved populations.*

*Our industry loves acronyms, even for words that are fairly short to begin with. TM = telemedicine. eH = eHealth.

eHealth is an overarching term, since the area covered by ICT is so broad. So it could refer to information systems for health-related applications, which is what we develop, as well as to electronic health records, health knowledge management, video teleconferencing, Web-based applications ("Health 2.0") and mobile device applications (mHealth). It also includes telemedicine, which uses telecommunications technology to enable remote consultations between patients and specialists.

But eHealth also refers to a shift in how we approach health care. From the 2001 article, "What Is eHealth?" by Gunther Eysenbach:

In a broader sense, the term characterizes not only a technical development, but also a state-of-mind, a way of thinking, an attitude, and a commitment for networked, global thinking, to improve health care locally, regionally, and worldwide by using information and communication technology.

Eysenbach goes on to define the 10 "E's" of eHealth that support this shift in thinking:

  • Efficiency

  • Enhancing quality of care

  • Evidence based

  • Empowerment of consumers and patients

  • Encouragement of a new relationship between the patient and health professional

  • Education of physicians and consumers through online sources

  • Enabling information exchange and communication in a standardized way

  • Extending the scope of health care beyond its conventional boundaries

  • Ethics

  • Equity

Some resources:

  • Making the eHealth Connection: a month-long conference series at the Rockefeller Foundation's Bellagio Center in Bellagio, Italy. The website includes a good selection of background materials and an eHealth resources wiki.
  • Global eHealth -- Measuring Outcomes: Why, What and How: "The authors recommend that because eHealth data are sparse and there is no global consensus on qualitative or quantitative health indicators for data collection, a 'minimum data set' of global eHealth outcome indicators should be identified and agreed upon by consensus, and should be universally applied."
  • eHealth Policy -- The Road to the New Digital Divide?: "The author states that there is a danger of policy interference unless international global policy or at least a set of 'common principles and complementary global eHealth policy (that) will minimize the risk of developing an eHealth policy divide between developed and developing countries...' is put in place."