What is eHealth: series from Journal of Medical Internet Research

  • David K Ahern, Jennifer M Kreslake, Judith M Phalen. What is eHealth (6): Perspectives on the evolution of eHealth research. JMIR March 31  2006; 8 (1): e4
  • Jones R, Rogers R, Roberts J, Callaghan L, Lindsey L, Campbell J, Thorogood M, Wright G, Gaunt N, Hanks C, Williamson GR. What is eHealth (5): a research agenda for eHealth through stakeholder consultation and policy context review. J Med Internet Res 2005;7:e54.
    BACKGROUND: In 2003, the National Health Service in England and Wales, despite its large investment in information and communication technology, had not set a national research agenda. The National Health Service has three main research and development programs: one is the Service Delivery and Organisation program, commissioned in 2003, and the others are two parallel “scoping exercises” to help set a research agenda. This paper reports on one of those projects. A parallel literature review was carried out by others and has been reported elsewhere.
    OBJECTIVE: The objective was to explore the concerns of stakeholders and to review relevant policy in order to produce recommendations and a conceptual map of eHealth research.
    METHODS: There were two parallel strands. For the stakeholder consultation, 37 professionals representing 12 “stakeholder” groups participated in focus groups or interviews. Discussion was prompted by eHealth “scenarios” and analyzed using thematic content analysis. Subsequently, 17 lay participants, in three focus groups, discussed and prioritized these themes. For the policy review, 26 policy makers were interviewed, and 95 policy documents were reviewed. Recommendations were subsequently reviewed in a conference workshop. Recommendations for research from both strands were combined into a conceptual map.
    RESULTS: Themes from stakeholder consultation and policy review were combined as 43 recommendations under six headings. Four of these headings (using, processing, sharing, and controlling information) describe the scope of eHealth research. The other two relate to how research should be carried out (ensuring best practice is first identified and disseminated) and to the values considered important by stakeholders (in particular, measuring improvement in health).
    CONCLUSIONS: The scope of eHealth research (using, processing, sharing, controlling information) derived empirically from this study corresponds with “textbook” descriptions of informatics. Stakeholders would like eHealth research to include outcomes such as improved health or quality of life, but such research may be long term while changes in information technology are rapid. Longer-term research questions need to be concerned with human behavior and our use of information, rather than particular technologies. In some cases, “modelling” longer-term costs and benefits (in terms of health) may be desirable.
  • Pagliari C, Sloan D, Gregor P, Sullivan F, Detmer D, Kahan JP, Oortwijn W, MacGillivray S. What is eHealth (4): a scoping exercise to map the field. J Med Internet Res 2005;7:e9.

    BACKGROUND: Lack of consensus on the meaning of eHealth has led to uncertainty among academics, policymakers, providers and consumers. This project was commissioned in light of the rising profile of eHealth on the international policy agenda and the emerging UK National Programme for Information Technology (now called Connecting for Health) and related developments in the UK National Health Service.
    OBJECTIVES: To map the emergence and scope of eHealth as a topic and to identify its place within the wider health informatics field, as part of a larger review of research and expert analysis pertaining to current evidence, best practice and future trends.
    METHODS: Multiple databases of scientific abstracts were explored in a nonsystematic fashion to assess the presence of eHealth or conceptually related terms within their taxonomies, to identify journals in which articles explicitly referring to eHealth are contained and the topics covered, and to identify published definitions of the concept. The databases were Medline (PubMed), the Cumulative Index of Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL), the Science Citation Index (SCI), the Social Science Citation Index (SSCI), the Cochrane Database (including Dare, Central, NHS Economic Evaluation Database [NHS EED], Health Technology Assessment [HTA] database, NHS EED bibliographic) and ISTP (now known as ISI proceedings).We used the search query, “Ehealth OR e-health OR e*health”. The timeframe searched was 1997-2003, although some analyses contain data emerging subsequent to this period. This was supplemented by iterative searches of Web-based sources, such as commercial and policy reports, research commissioning programmes and electronic news pages. Definitions extracted from both searches were thematically analyzed and compared in order to assess conceptual heterogeneity.
    RESULTS: The term eHealth only came into use in the year 2000, but has since become widely prevalent. The scope of the topic was not immediately discernable from that of the wider health informatics field, for which over 320000 publications are listed in Medline alone, and it is not explicitly represented within the existing Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) taxonomy. Applying eHealth as narrative search term to multiple databases yielded 387 relevant articles, distributed across 154 different journals, most commonly related to information technology and telemedicine, but extending to such areas as law. Most eHealth articles are represented on Medline. Definitions of eHealth vary with respect to the functions, stakeholders, contexts and theoretical issues targeted. Most encompass a broad range of medical informatics applications either specified (eg, decision support, consumer health information) or presented in more general terms (eg, to manage, arrange or deliver health care). However the majority emphasize the communicative functions of eHealth and specify the use of networked digital technologies, primarily the Internet, thus differentiating eHealth from the field of medical informatics. While some definitions explicitly target health professionals or patients, most encompass applications for all stakeholder groups. The nature of the scientific and broader literature pertaining to eHealth closely reflects these conceptualizations.
    CONCLUSIONS: We surmise that the field — as it stands today — may be characterized by the global definitions suggested by Eysenbach and Eng.

  • Oh H, Rizo C, Enkin M, Jadad A. What is eHealth (3): a systematic review of published definitions. J Med Internet Res 2005;7:e1.
    CONTEXT: The term eHealth is widely used by many individuals, academic institutions, professional bodies, and funding organizations. It has become an accepted neologism despite the lack of an agreed-upon clear or precise definition. We believe that communication among the many individuals and organizations that use the term could be improved by comprehensive data about the range of meanings encompassed by the term.
    OBJECTIVE: To report the results of a systematic review of published, suggested, or proposed definitions of eHealth.
    DATA SOURCES: Using the search query string “eHealth” OR “e-Health” OR “electronic health”, we searched the following databases: Medline and Premedline (1966-June 2004), EMBASE (1980-May 2004), International Pharmaceutical Abstracts (1970-May 2004), Web of Science (all years), Information Sciences Abstracts (1966-May 2004), Library Information Sciences Abstracts (1969-May 2004), and Wilson Business Abstracts (1982-March 2004). In addition, we searched dictionaries and an Internet search engine.
    STUDY SELECTION: We included any source published in either print format or on the Internet, available in English, and containing text that defines or attempts to define eHealth in explicit terms. Two of us independently reviewed titles and abstracts of citations identified in the bibliographic databases and Internet search, reaching consensus on relevance by discussion.
    DATA EXTRACTION: We retrieved relevant reports, articles, references, letters, and websites containing definitions of eHealth. Two of us qualitatively analyzed the definitions and coded them for content, emerging themes, patterns, and novel ideas.
    DATA SYNTHESIS: The 51 unique definitions that we retrieved showed a wide range of themes, but no clear consensus about the meaning of the term eHealth. We identified 2 universal themes (health and technology) and 6 less general (commerce, activities, stakeholders, outcomes, place, and perspectives).
    CONCLUSIONS: The widespread use of the term eHealth suggests that it is an important concept, and that there is a tacit understanding of its meaning. This compendium of proposed definitions may improve communication among the many individuals and organizations that use the term.
  • Vincenzo Della Mea. What is e-Health (2): The death of telemedicine? [editorial] (J Med Internet Res 2001;3(2):e22)
  • Eysenbach G. What is e-Health? [editorial] (J Med Internet Res 2001;3(2):e20)

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