eHealth is the cost-effective and secure use of information communication technologies (ICT) in support of health and health related fields, including health-care services, health surveillance, health literature, and health education, knowledge and research
World Health Assembly resolution WHA58.28
In simple words, eHealth is the convergence of Internet and healthcare to improve people’s lives. A marketer’s invention rather than an academic one, the term eHealth followed the trend of all e-words raising from the 00s onwards (e-commerce, e-learning, etc.). And despite how reluctant some scholars might have been, eHealth quickly entered the scientific literature and even the World Health Organization, which by 2016 already released its third global report on eHealth.
Back in 2001, Gunther Eysenbach, editor of the Journal of Medical Internet Research published a decalog on the definitory Es of this trend. Two concepts in this decalog stood out for their mixed ambivalence: Efficiency and Ethics. While efficiency is the one big promise eHealth makes to decrease duplicities and therefore reduce expense, funnily enough, this comes at a cost. And that’s because whereas technology is ready (and has been for a while), the system is not. In fact, the Health sector is knowingly one of the most regulated and zealous of privacy, a fact that clearly stands as a stopper for the development of eHealth.
The stats are transparent enough. By 2016 according to the World Health Organization, 58% of member states had an eHealth strategy which was almost equalled (55%) by those with legislation on patient data. To be fair, the security concern is founded on serious grounds, as it was demonstrated by the damaging effects the WannaCry attack had on the British health system, which forced hundreds of operation cancellations. Therefore, it is clear that eHealth won’t rise to its full potential if it’s not hand in hand with a solid legal layer. And that’s a long-run.
With that said, the digitalization of Health is happening, at its own pace, but happening. Most ICU units are benefitting from connected monitoring systems integrated with the diagnose services and patient’s clinical history. Professionals are praising the usefulness of managing extense databases and extracting the relevant information. Big Data is emerging as the king of the med office. Yet, not trespassing the Hospital’s walls. Juan Jurado Moreno, responsible of the Informatics Group in The Spanish Society of Primary Care Medics, regrets that doctors are still relegated to paper in-home visits and claims that patients are wide ahead of the Administrations in terms of digitalization.
The shift from hospital care to home care is irreversible, according to Deloitte, which presents this as one of their 5 key predictions in the Health sector in 2025. Another one is the uprise of the medical virtual visit, which Deloitte foresees at an astounding 70% for the whole Spanish population in 7 years. The virtual visit, the predictive diagnose, connected departments… these are all part of the eHealth revolution.
Whether these predictions become true by 2025 or not, one thing is certain: just like the outburst of the eCommerce, eHealth is irremediable because it is a public demand. And despite some innovative startups in the sector struggle to break the wall (we have one good example at The Collider with natural language processing applied to health), in the end the digital savvy will win the battle with a fair competitive advantage.