Inventing the Future of E-Health

Inventing the Future of E-Health

José Aurelio Medina-Garrido (Cadiz University, Spain) and María José Crisóstomo-Acevedo (Jerez Hospital, Spain)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-026-4.ch355
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Abstract

E-health involves the use of information and communications technologies to improve health in general and the healthcare system in particular (Alvarez, 2002; Chau & Hu, 2004; Roger & Pendharkar, 2000). Healthcare, one of the largest industries in the world, suffers from some inefficiencies and inequities in both service provision and quality. Some of these problems are due to the poor management of the information flows (Kirsch, 2002). In this respect, there are business opportunities for e-health. But to understand what the future holds for e-health, we need to find a precise definition of the concept and identify the possible sources of business. This article is structured as follows. The second section, the background, defines the concept of e-health. The third section outlines some of the business opportunities in the area of e-health based on the communications platform that is the Internet, and discusses some practical guidelines for e-health businesses to create value. The fourth section discusses the low level of adoption of e-health at present, as well as the future trends, in which e-health will presumably grow. e-health is also expected to be used to reduce the disparities in the population in access to healthcare, and for the treatment of the chronically ill. The fifth section is dedicated to the final conclusions.
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Introduction

E-health involves the use of information and communications technologies to improve health in general and the healthcare system in particular (Alvarez, 2002; Chau & Hu, 2004; Roger & Pendharkar, 2000).

Healthcare, one of the largest industries in the world, suffers from some inefficiencies and inequities in both service provision and quality. Some of these problems are due to the poor management of the information flows (Kirsch, 2002). In this respect, there are business opportunities for e-health. But to understand what the future holds for e-health, we need to find a precise definition of the concept and identify the possible sources of business.

This article is structured as follows. The second section, the background, defines the concept of e-health. The third section outlines some of the business opportunities in the area of e-health based on the communications platform that is the Internet, and discusses some practical guidelines for e-health businesses to create value. The fourth section discusses the low level of adoption of e-health at present, as well as the future trends, in which e-health will presumably grow. e-health is also expected to be used to reduce the disparities in the population in access to healthcare, and for the treatment of the chronically ill. The fifth section is dedicated to the final conclusions.

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Background

The term e-health is relatively recent and refers to healthcare practice that is supported by electronic processes and communications. The term has many definitions, depending on the functions, stakeholders, context, or the theoretical framework referred to. It includes a wide range of medical informatics applications, both specific (for example, decision support systems, citizen health information) and general (for example, management systems, healthcare services provision, etc.). But the increased importance of the communication function in e-health, and the use of electronic networks (particularly the Internet), differentiate e-health from traditional medical informatics (Pagliari, 2005).

Thus, e-health goes beyond healthcare informatics and incorporates the most advanced information technologies to medicine and healthcare. Among the most significant applications of the technologies to healthcare are the following:

  • Electronic Medical Records, which allow different healthcare professionals to share information about a particular patient.

  • Telemedicine, which uses information and communications technology (ICT) to enable physician-patient contact at a distance.

  • Evidence-based Medicine, in which a system updates information about the most appropriate treatments for each patient, thereby enhancing physicians’ treatment possibilities.

  • Citizen-oriented Information, through which citizens are provided with information about health topics.

  • Specialist-oriented Information, whereby a system distributes information to specialists about medical journal articles, practices and protocols in the area of health, new medical advances, epidemiological alerts, etc.

  • Virtual healthcare teams, made up of healthcare professionals sharing information about patients electronically to improve their knowledge and decision-making.

  • Health e-commerce, which involves providing value-added electronic services to both professionals and citizens, and economically exploiting some or all of the services. In this respect, e-health is supported by the Internet and related technologies and combines medical informatics, public health, and business. This type of e-health does not exclude the previous ones. To the contrary, it includes them or complements them. The following section discusses the concept of Health e-commerce, indicating what types there are, what they consist of, and how they obtain their revenues.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Health E-Commerce: E-business based on the economic exploitation of health-related information and services.

Virtual Healthcare Teams: Teams made up of healthcare professionals that share information about patients electronically in order to improve their knowledge and decision-making.

Health Plan: An individual or group plan that provides, or pays the cost of, medical care.

Over-the-Counter (OTC) Medicine: A medicine that can be bought without a doctor’s prescription, such as some analgesics.

Telemedicine: The use of information and communications technologies to exchange information between practitioners, or to deliver medical services to a patient remotely.

E-Health: The provision of any healthcare service that is supported by electronic processes and communications.

Business-to-Consumer (B2C) E-Commerce: Commercial transactions and activities between firms and the end-consumer using information systems and technologies.

Evidence-Based Medicine: Medical practice involving the sharing, updating and consultation of a system containing information about the most appropriate treatments for each patient. This helps to improve the treatments chosen by the physicians who use this system.

Commodities: Raw materials, unfinished products, or products sold loose, or any other product characterized by being undifferentiated. Such products cannot be differentiated from other products in function of the producer that manufactures them or the supplier that sells them.

Business-to-Business (B2B) E-Commerce: Economic transactions between firms using information systems and technologies.

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