The use of communication and information technology (IT) for healthcare refers to e-health. It's a broad term that encompasses several territories, which makes it difficult to pinpoint its exact definition. Others in the industry call it health IT, which adds to the confusion.
What is E-Health?
The term has been around for a while but became more prominent around 1999, associated with other terms that have an "e" prefix, such as e-solutions and e-commerce, since the term was presumably created by marketing people and leaders in the industry. They were trying to ride on the popularity of digital solutions as well as the things associated with Internet technology, toying with the possibilities that it would usher in a new era in healthcare services.
The use of the Internet presented challenges and new opportunities to traditional healthcare IT industry. The challenges for healthcare IT are:
- Business to consumer (B2C). The interaction of consumers to online systems of healthcare institution
- Business-to-business (B2B). Enhanced prospects for institution-to-institution data transmissions
- Consumer-to-consumer (C2C). New alternatives for peer-to-peer consumer communication
Evolution of the term
Some industry people believe that the term should stay within the area of marketing and business. But some industry insiders have noticed that e-health has already entered the realm of scientific discourse and medical literature, reporting that several scholarly articles regarding healthcare have mentioned e-health in their abstracts or their titles.
So far e-health covers more than just technological developments. From simply accessing healthcare and medical information on the Internet, e-health now tethers between medical informatics, business and public health.
Today it refers to information and health services enhanced and delivered online.
It is no longer just about the technical developments. E-health today also refers to the attitude, way of thinking and state of mind. It is about the commitment for a global-thinking and networked community aiming to improve healthcare of the local community, the region and the global society by using the developments in the communication and information technology.
Based on the broad definitions about e-health, it is safe to assume that it is no longer about electronic access to information. While e-health still does not have a specific definition, it now has several concepts that help empower patients and healthcare providers. The latter has more access to various resources to provide cost effective and efficient healthcare services. Patients can now have an active role in the management of their healthcare treatments. E-health allows them to have a deeper understanding of their medical condition and learn how to manage it effectively.
Concepts of e-health
Gunther Eysenbach, a German e-health and health informatics researcher came up with the 10 e's of e-health, which was published on the website of the Journal of Medical Internet Research.
Since not many people are aware of the concepts of e-health, we'll take this opportunity to explain each concept in the hope of making it easier to grasp the extent of e-health in the context of providing better and cost effective healthcare services.
E-health promises to improve healthcare's efficiency that will reduce costs. Cost reduction is seen in the avoidance of unnecessary or duplicate diagnostic and/or therapeutic treatments. The savings can be realized via the possibility of improved communication between the patient and the healthcare establishment or provider and through the involvement of patients. On the average, a doctor spends about 13 to 24 minutes with each patient, which can increase with online technology.
- Enhancing quality of care
E-health is seen as a means to improve the quality of healthcare services. Since it is online, it is easy for patient to compare the services of different providers, check consumer feedback and find the best provider for the patient's particular medical case.
- Evidence based
This is still in the exploratory stage, but it is considered as an aspect to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of healthcare treatments through enhanced scientific evaluation. This means that specific conditions can be thoroughly checked against previous records, just like how lawyers check previous court rulings regarding similar cases.
- Empowerment of consumers and patients
With the personal medical records and the knowledge bases of medicine available to the patients electronically, e-health can open new means for patient-focused medicine. It will also help patients to make intelligent choices by reading evidence available.
- Encouragement of a new relationship between the patient and health professional
Online communication between patient and provider can be a means to form a better partnership between the two parties, enabling them to share responsibilities in their decisions.
- Education of physicians through online sources
If a physician has to avail of continuing education, he or she often takes a leave of absence in order to concentrate on studying. With the easier access to continuing medical education through legitimate online sources, doctors do not have to leave their practice, continue to see their patients and gain additional knowledge.
- Enabling information exchange and communication
From what you've seen so far, it seems that e-health is quite a good alternative vis-à-vis traditional methods of dispensing healthcare treatments. However, there should still be a standard way for the exchange of communication and information between the establishments providing healthcare services. The key points here are the issue of patient privacy and the security of their medical information.
- Extending the scope of health care
Healthcare is traditionally availed from local or regional healthcare facilities. A patient has to visit a clinic or hospital for a regular medical checkup or treatment. With e-health, healthcare is seen to break down geographical barriers. This means that medical practitioners in one state could see other patients from different states or even patients located in other countries.
With the growth of e-health, the industry will have to create standards. The interaction between patient and physician will change. Ethical issues, such as privacy, informed consent and the standards regarding the professional medical practice conducted online must have the proper guidelines and safeguards that should be strictly followed.
E-health is perceived to make healthcare available to all. However, one of the things that should be resolved is the threat of a deeper gap between people who can afford to avail of the services and those who cannot. Rich people can access the Internet quickly and readily while the poor people, who need healthcare services more, might not have the means to have or use a computer, much less go online to connect to a medical professional or even read medical information.
Several gaps still exist
- Common versus rare and neglected diseases
- Urban versus rural populations
- Old versus young
- Poor versus rich
- Female versus male
Impact of e-health on interactions of physician and patient
- With e-health it is foreseen that the physician-patient relationship is going to be stronger. The concept allows the patients to access the tools they need to handle their own care. It is meant to increase their confidence in their doctor and become more comfortable in supervise their medical condition and well-being.
- Accessing the right resources through e-health enables patients to ask their doctors the right questions related to their medical conditions. With the resources available, it will result in patients completing their treatment plans, find out the benefits of the medicines prescribed to them and look for activities and exercises that will help them to improve their physical well-being.
- E-health is seen as a very acceptable alternative to the traditional method of availing of healthcare services. It can potentially increase the number of people seeking medical advice and treatment as traveling expenses are eliminated. Both patients and doctors will gain the benefits that e-health provides.
Should your brand jump on board?
There are a number of things to consider to answer this question. A number of e-health service providers now operate in the United States.
• As an end-user of e-health, if you are ready to switch to e-health service plan, it is essential that you do plenty of research to ensure that the medical organization provides all the services your company needs, their rates, their requirements and regulations.
• If you are a medical facility that wants to branch into e-health services, you need to create a cohesive and detailed plan. You need the right technology and communication infrastructure, a list of services you can offer, composition of the professional team and staff training. Moreover, you have to coordinate with the governing and regulatory bodies, such as the World Health Organization, the Department of Health and Human Services, Medicare, Medicaid, and others.
Several rules and regulations are available, such as the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, and Health Information Privacy Law and Policy.
Understanding medical jargon
It is difficult to understand medical jargon if you are not from the same profession. Oftentimes, patients become confused because they cannot comprehend the diagnosis, recommended treatment and even the prescription given to them by their healthcare provider.
Since medical information involves the life of a patient, it is critical that medical records, diagnosis and other healthcare information should be translated not only in the language spoken by the patient or another doctor but also in terms that are easy to understand.
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