Currently submitted to: Journal of Medical Internet Research
Date Submitted: Jul 7, 2019
Open Peer Review Period: Jul 11, 2019 - Sep 5, 2019
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eHealth: advantages, disadvantages and guiding principles for the future.
Information and communication technologies have changed the way we access, analyse and use health information. eHealth is a new concept that has been in use for almost two decades. Nevertheless, even today, there is little consensus on eHealth definitions, its main advantages or disadvantages and the future development of eHealth research.
This paper aims to define the concept of eHealth, recognise its main advantages and potential harms or challenges and acknowledge the aspects of eHealth that need to be explored in future research.
A literature review was conducted by searching all peer-reviewed articles published prior to February 2019 in PubMed. The search was conducted using the following keywords: «eHealth», «eHealth definition», «eHealth advantages», «eHealth problems» and «eHealth future». Of the numerous articles retrieved we analysed the titles, their abstracts, the language and if we could access full-text versions. We were able to select one hundred articles that included contents related to our objectives.
Of the one hundred articles reviewed, twenty studies contained eHealth definitions. The more mentioned aspects, within the definitions, were the information and communication technologies, health care delivery, the Internet and the importance of being user centred. Twenty nine articles mentioned advantages. The literature showed that the main advantage was that eHealth improved the accessibility to health information, followed by the chance of tailoring the health interventions. Other themes that emerged were user empowerment or the opportunity to reduce costs. Seventy three articles mentioned eHealth disadvantages. The most quoted was the poor quality of the information available, followed by the user’s difficulty to properly evaluate that quality, the existence of technical or not easily understandable information, or the risk of potential harms. Forty articles mentioned recommendations for future eHealth research. The most cited proposals were to improve user’s health and eHealth literacy, and health care providers implication in eHealth development and delivery.
Despite not finding consensus around the eHealth definition, we have found some features that can help to define eHealth as the delivery of user centred health care services through information and communication technologies, mainly Internet. The main advantages of using eHealth services are the improvement of accessibility to health, the opportunity to tailor the interventions, user empowerment and cost-effectiveness. Among the literature there are concerns about quality, information being intelligible, the digital divide or the risk of potential harms. Most mentioned guidelines for the future are to improve user’s health and eHealth literacy, health care providers implication in eHealth development and delivery, and the need of more research about the effectiveness of the eHealth interventions.
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