Welcome to the world of digital-savvy patients. When it comes to the healthcare services they need, most patients today are eager to use digital technologies in their benefit. Medical providers are also applying e-health technologies to increase patient outreach, simplify workflows, and efficiently store and exchange medical data.

E-health is no longer a new concept, but there are still many questions about it. Many worry about its applicability, the cost to purchase and train staff to use virtual care software, and wonder if it can truly deliver what it promises. Privacy concerns are another issue that both patients and practitioners raise.

This article explores the main characteristics of e-health services before going a little deeper – into how it works and what to expect from it as a patient.

What Is E-Health?

E-health may seem like a broad, vague term, because it does cover a wide variety of processes and applications, but its actual definition is quite simple: it represents healthcare practice that uses electronic communications and processes.

What Does it Look Like?

It can be practiced as:

  • As standalone interventions – as with casual mental health app usage, or
  • As part of a more encompassing blended care approach, by combining face-to-face (F2F) and digital to boost health engagement.

Even if it had such a straight-forward definition, e-health is not only about the means of collecting and transmitting medical data, but it encompasses a way of thinking, a common purpose of both patients and providers to make medical services more available, more accurate, and more efficient.

It is composed of all the applications of digital clinical solutions – from video conferencing to webinars, that serve and improve the healthcare system.

From a practical point of view, e-health has many fascinating, ingenious applications, from patient-doctor interfaces to the use of the Internet of Things to quantitative data collection for research or treatment. We will go through a number of uses of e-health and how they have changed the way we manage our health.

But first, let’s try to understand the benefits eHealth can provide and whether it is worth the investment.

What Is the Purpose of E-Health?

As noted, e-health is more than just using the internet to move medical data from one point to another. This form of documenting the medical act is not simply an affiliation of sectors, but a real need that had to be covered, as healthcare has become more complex and fast-growing than ever before.

E-health might generally mean an increase in the numbers calculating efficiency and productivity, but for certain categories of patients, it can make a huge difference. In particular, it increases the availability of healthcare for those who are frequently underserved, including:[1]

  • Minorities
  • Vulnerable demographics, and
  • Those in remote areas who often don’t get medical treatment for certain conditions, because of a lack of specialists in the area or other logistic reasons.

E-health encompasses a way of thinking, a common purpose of both patients and providers to make medical services more available, more accurate, and more efficient.

Besides uniting patients and practitioners, e-health also connects peers in the medical world, allowing them to exchange data and use large databases for research purposes. Learning is also aided by technology, as more literature is available online and discussion boards are created.

Ultimately, we can say that the main purpose of e-health is to improve medical care across the world.[2]

Benefits of E-health Services

There are numerous advantages to the addition of digital technologies to medicine, and we will name a few of them.

Benefit

Details

It Saves Time

E-health allows patients to schedule appointments, meet their doctors, and start treatments more quickly than they can with traditional methods. By eliminating paperwork, transportation costs, time, and other logistic elements, e-health brings medical services closer to patients.[3][4]

It Gives Patients Access to Their Medical Records

It’s not that conventional medicine doesn’t, but the way the patient interacts with his data and the ease of access is characteristic of e-health services. Through E-health features like EHR, for example, patients are able to edit their own medical records and add subjective or administrative information to it.[5]

Less Paperwork = Fewer Errors

E-health is designed to increase productivity in medicine – partly by eliminating paperwork, which takes time away from the actual medical practice. By simplifying the data introduction process, e-health solutions such as practice management and assessment software and are helping doctors focus more on diagnosis, treatment, and other key service elements.[6]

Making the World Healthier by Connecting Stakeholders

By connecting relevant institutions and organizations to medical providers and patients, E-health has created a network that is better equipped to solve the issues of the medical system at a macro level, but also locally.

The members that can make up an e-health network can include, but aren’t limited to:[7][8]

  • Schools;
  • Hospitals
  • Rehabilitation facilities
  • Counselors
  • Religions organizations
  • Non-profit organizations
  • Medical cabinets, and
  • Government institutions.

E-Health Applications

There are so many different ways of adopting HIT (Health Information Technologies), that e-health includes a lot of types of medical services. We want to give you an idea of just how vast and varied this niche is.

Here, we’ve listed some of the most commonly known and, at the same time, diverse applications of e-health.

EHR (Electronic Health Records)

Switching to an electronic health record system instead of traditional paperwork has many advantages, from easy access to medical data for providers with mutual patients, to the importance of such records for research.[9] EHR is already mainstream in today’s medicine and has led to increased productivity and a higher patient engagement rate.

ePrescribing (e-Rx)

By using electronic communication methods to send prescriptions to pharmacies, doctors are less likely to be misunderstood or make errors. There are surprisingly many cases of patients who have taken the wrong treatment because the doctor’s prescription was misread by the pharmacist, some of them even deadly.

Switching to electronic prescribing will not only eliminate that risk, but it comes with better timing, increased level of relevant information in a patient’s record, and automatization of the renewal process.[10]

CDSS (Clinical Decision Support System)

Why do patients sometimes ask for a second opinion? Doctors are different, some are more qualified than others, and sometimes their perspective is so different that a patient can be prescribed different treatments for the same thing.

A CDSS is an electronic system designed to help physicians and other medical professionals make the best decision in terms of treatment, based on established protocols or on the “experience” of an AI system.[11]

Telemedicine

While we consider the actual medical act aided by electronics in this category, telemedicine covers more than that. Besides helping with administrative issues, HIT is contributing hugely to the quality of the medical act itself.

A lot of new technologies have been integrated into medical practice, as it’s a sector very well known for adopting and inspiring technological innovations.

From electronic medical devices that are connected to the internet to therapy software programs, telemedicine is being more and more integrated with the basic healthcare system.[12]

Globally, governments are currently working on extending telemedicine networks to remote areas and covering it through public health programs.

CHI (Consumer Health Informatics)

This field of e-health addresses the need of the public to be more informed and educated about healthcare, empowering them to manage their own health, and be more involved in their medical care.[13]

CHI include internet-based resources that use a consumer-friendly language to provide health information.

Current Limitations of E-Health

Despite its many advantages and burgeoning popularity, many barriers still prevent the more widespread adoption of e-health technologies.

One of the main limitations of E-health and the primary reason why its implementation might be too costly or undesired for some providers and patients is that it requires a certain degree of e-health literacy.

In other words, not every patient or every doctor is capable of using medical or mental health software in their interaction.

Another is that, in certain situations, it can be a burden. Combined with a lack of proper training and a low flow of patients, e-health systems can actually be too costly for a medical provider, and not increase productivity at all.

Let’s consider some examples:

Limitation

Details

Requires e-health Literacy

  • The types of literacy required to use an e-health system include basic literacy (being able to read and write), computer literacy, media literacy, and of course, health literacy.[14] Patients not skilled with computers might not benefit from e-health systems, and confusions can even negatively impact client relationships.
  • Some medical professionals without sufficient computer literacy may also be prevented from using e-health systems efficiently. Most errors that were observed, for example, in security breaches or the information contained in EHR were caused by human error and not the electronic system.

Costly for Individual Practitioners or Small Medical Units

  • An individual practitioner from a remote area, for example, may serve a large number of patients. They may not have enough time to go through comprehensive training about the new e-health system, rendering them less productive and more prone to frustration.
  • In the absence of a wider network where the electronic system would be more useful, there would be no return on investment

Regarding these limitations, however, and on a large scale, any doctor or medical unit eventually interact with a peer’s work. When patients who are hard to diagnose or have multiple diagnostics, communicating with other specialties is often mandatory, and e-health systems are designed to make this communication faster and easier.

For some providers, though, e-health technologies such as therapy apps and video-conferencing may take a bit more time to become a fully-functioning piece of the puzzle, as e-health is still being regulated and implemented.

Related: How ABA Software can improve your practice

Future of E-Health

It is clear that e-health is the future of healthcare, but what’s the future of e-health?

To have a realistic idea about where e-health is going in the next decade or century, we need to consider its main purposes and latest innovative developments.

The medical system as a whole is shifting more and more toward a model that will include digital technologies.

Increasing Adoption and Current Directions

Since the main purpose of e-health is to make healthcare more accessible and efficient, its future will definitely move towards that, so we can expect constant improvement from it.

The number and nature of the challenges that it might meet are not entirely known, but current adopters are confident that e-health will eventually become the norm and it will help both patients and providers keep up with the incredible technological leaps we are witnessing.

Chronic Disease Management

Chronic disease management is an example of an area that benefits hugely from e-health. Patients with diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and other chronic conditions can be monitored through electronic medical devices that can connect to the Internet, sending real-time information to a doctor that doesn’t even have to be near the patient.[15]

This is one particularly important new direction for the domain, ensuring patients are constantly monitored without having to leave the house for difficult traveling.[16] Additionally, advancements in the field are fast showing that patients can receive healthcare treatment adjustments in a timely and precise manner.

Rehabilitation

Post-surgery or post-trauma care are also great examples of how e-health can benefit patients and doctors. The hospital-at-home model makes recovery easier for many patients and encourages them to monitor their state more carefully.[17]

Specialized Treatments

From iCBT programs to talk therapy and beyond, we are seeing increasingly more sectors delivering their services via digital channels. Some great examples include the rapid developments being made in delivering specialty-specific e-treatments. For example:

The medical system as a whole is shifting more and more toward a model that will include digital technologies. We cannot progress in a world so dominated by cyber technologies without understanding them and aligning our work to the new standards in communication.

E-health is a great example of why some computer literacy is needed, but since healthcare should include everyone, there are efforts to make electronic services more user-friendly and intuitive.

Final Thoughts

What we currently see in e-health’s progress is more than encouraging, as most studies about it find that it’s efficient, cost-reducing, and more likely to increase patient engagement. While some of its applications are already in the mainstream, others have yet to become known by the general public, or regulated enough.

So, we can say that we are witnessing a transitioning era, from conventional data-keeping and communication in the medical field to a series of processes that are aided by cyber technology. By keeping an eye on the problematic aspects of e-health, we can improve it and focus on its numerous benefits.

Next time you are in a doctor’s office, it would be interesting to notice how e-health influences your own experience as a patient. Knowing more about its applicability will also allow you to find health resources and information, and ultimately make more educated decisions about your health.

References

  1. ^ Ashwick, R., Turgoose, D., & Murphy, D. (2019). Exploring the acceptability of delivering Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) to UK veterans with PTSD over Skype: a qualitative study. European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 10(1), 1573128.
  2. ^ WHO. (2020). Using e-health and information technology to improve health. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/westernpacific/activities/using-e-health-and-information-technology-to-improve-health
  3. ^ McLean, S., Sheikh, A., Cresswell, K., Nurmatov, U., Mukherjee, M., Hemmi, A., & Pagliari, C. (2013). The impact of telehealthcare on the quality and safety of care: a systematic overview. PloS one, 8(8), e71238.
  4. ^ White, C. B., Moyer, C. A., Stern, D. T., & Katz, S. J. (2004). A content analysis of e-mail communication between patients and their providers: patients get the message. Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, 11(4), 260.
  5. ^ Jennett, P. A., Hall, L. A., Hailey, D., Ohinmaa, A., Anderson, C., Thomas, R., & Scott, R. E. (2003). The socio-economic impact of telehealth: a systematic review. Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare, 9(6), 311.
  6. ^ Institute of Medicine. (2003). Key capabilities of an electronic health record system. Retrieved from http://iom.nationalacademies.org/Reports/2003/Key-Capabilities-of-anElectronic-Health-Record-System.aspx
  7. ^ Pouloudi, N., Currie, W., & Whitley, E. A. (2016). Entangled stakeholder roles and perceptions in health information systems: a longitudinal study of the UK NHS N3 network. Journal of the Association for Information Systems, 17(2), 107.
  8. ^ Goodini, A., Torabi, M., Goodarzi, M., Safdari, R., Darayi, M., Tavassoli, M., Shabani, M. (2015) The simulation model of teleradiology in telemedicine project. The Health Care Manager 34(1): 69.
  9. ^ Medscape. (2017). How Easily Can Your Patients Obtain Their EHRs?. Retrieved from https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/883058
  10. ^ European Commission. (2017). eHealth Benefits. Retrieved from https://ec.europa.eu/cefdigital/wiki/display/CEFDSIS/eHealth+Benefits
  11. ^ HealthIT.gov. (2018). Clinical Decision Support. Retrieved from https://www.healthit.gov/topic/safety/clinical-decision-support
  12. ^ Neville, C. W. (2018). Telehealth: A balanced look at incorporating this technology into practice. SAGE Open Nursing, 4, 2377960818786504.
  13. ^ Demiris, G. (2016). Consumer health informatics: Past, present, and future of a rapidly evolving domain. Yearbook of Medical Informatics, 25(S1), S42.
  14. ^ Norman, C. D., & Skinner, H. A. (2006). eHealth literacy: essential skills for consumer health in a networked world. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 8(2), e9.
  15. ^ Paré, G., Jaana, M., & Sicotte, C. (2007). Systematic review of home telemonitoring for chronic diseases: the evidence base. Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, 14(3), 269.
  16. ^ McLean, S., Protti, D., & Sheikh, A. (2011). Telehealthcare for long term conditions. BMJ, 342, d120.
  17. ^ Nerlich, M., Herbst, T., Ernstberger, A., & Blätzinger, M. (2019). Opportunities of telemedicine for orthopedics and trauma surgery. International Journal of Travel Medicine and Global Health (IJTMGH), 7(3), 72.

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