This article contains a general overview of the possibilities afforded by technology available on the Internet as far as health is concerned. The combination of these three elements, technology-Internet-Health, has resulted in a number of e-terms being coined, like e-health or cybermedicine.
E-health is the broadest concept referring to information and communication technologies (ICT) which, by way of tools, are used in the health sector to prevent, diagnose, treat, follow up, and manage health, reducing health system costs and improving its efficiency.
It includes different health products and services like mobile applications, telemedicine, wearable devices (for monitoring purposes, they can be worn in clothing or accessories), the Big Data (large amounts of data, for instance in clinical histories), clinical decision support systems, the Internet of Things or health video games, among others.
To give an idea of the existing connection between health and technology, it is worth taking a look at the approach given to technology by the World Health Organization (WHO). According to WHO, e-health is related to the “cost-effective and secure use of information and communication technologies in support of health-related fields” (OMS Resolution WHA58.28).
According to Gunther Eysenbach, editor of the Journal of Medical Internet Research, e-health can be defined as follows: “E-health is an emerging field in the intersection of medical informatics, public health and business, referring to health services and information delivered or enhanced through the Internet and related technologies. In a broader sense, the term characterizes not only a technical development, but also a state-of-mind, a way of thinking, an attitude, and a commitment for networked, global thinking, to improve health care locally, regionally and globally by using information and communication technologies”.
Accordingly, we keep the above definition because it is comprehensive and cross-disciplinary, and refers to citizens, technical infrastructure, and the political willingness to improve health services.
As we know, health protection through disease prevention and treatment is intended to increase life expectancy, improve the chances of survival of patients with serious and chronic conditions, and improve the possibilities of treating different illnesses. To meet these objectives, new tools based on medical applications which use the cyber space now exist. Let us see how they can be used:
- Access to information: data banks, web sites, discussion forums, bibliography (some publications are only digital), mobile health (m-health), a term used for the practice of medicine and public health supported by mobile devices, electronic clinical histories, etc.
- New tools: cyber-medicine or e-health, telehealth, telemedicine, support groups on line.
- For cyber-medicine or e-health, the Internet is used to: (i) openly exchange confidential and non-confidential information between patients and doctors; (ii) educate health users, (iii) perform self-support activities, (iv) carry out research, (v) analyze the impact of the Internet on the doctor-patient relationship; and (vi) guarantee the quality of health services.
- As far as telemedicine is concerned, it allows providing clinical health care from a distance, like telesurgery, teleconsultations, teleeducation, telemonitoring, telementoring, remote medical conferences, etc.
There’s no doubt that e-health provides a number of benefits, the main ones being the following:
• It allows supporting any health policy aimed at taking care of the needs of citizens by providing health care or health management services.
• It provides health care to citizens, regardless of their personal condition or geographical location, providing mobility and making it possible for citizens to elect the most appropriate health resources within a framework of equality of opportunities and well-informed participation.
• It facilitates:
- Prognosis, prevention and follow-up of disease.
- Personalization of health systems.
- Citizen participation in the evolution, adaptation and improvement of health care policies and services.
- Increased patient safety throughout all health process stages.
- Integration of health services into the economic development models implemented by countries.
- Follow-up of health indicators and methodological registration of data and reports on the health condition of patients.
- Telematic management of health services through the Internet. In the past, health services could only be physically managed, which required having time invested both by the patient and health personnel.
E-health requires regulating new elements for interaction between users (people, organizations and the public administration), accessing data and performing transactions (information and services). In another article, we will discuss the progress made so far by our country in this field.