Healthcare is a big topic, globally. Ranging from the enactment of policies to the public funding of primary healthcare services and the actual delivery of medical care to citizens, countries of the world are heavily investing in healthcare delivery globally. Healthcare delivery reportedly takes about 10% of the GDP of most developed countries. In 2018, the global healthcare industry was estimated to be worth $8.45 trillion. By 2022, market analysis indicators project that the global healthcare industry should surpass the $10 trillion mark. In the United States alone, there are more than 784,000 companies in the healthcare sector, with healthcare spending estimated at about $10 224 per capita.
In essence, the drive for quality healthcare globally is a serious business that cuts across policy-making and governmental funding. With a rapidly increasing population, it is logical that the global healthcare industry has diversified investments into developing new methods of delivering quality medical care. These methods improve on the conventional methods that solely rely on hospital visits and also ensures equal access to medical care. In recent years, advances in technology have provided a feasible option for improving the global goal of implementing quality medical care services and equal access to such services.
Exploring Technology in Healthcare Delivery
Merging recent advances in technology with modern medicine has been predicted to reduce the cost of operational and clinical inefficiencies by $100 billion annually. This explains why telemedicine has been introduced in many countries. In China, about 28% of the population access healthcare through Information and Communication Technology.
Telemedicine –a rapidly emerging practice globally –technically describes healthcare delivery systems exploring innovative digital systems solutions and communication technology. A March 2020 publication of Neurology affirmed that more than 90% of clinicians considered remote healthcare delivery (Telemedicine) as an acceptable method of healthcare delivery while about 60% considered it very effective.
In recent terms, many technical terms describing innovative attempts at improving global healthcare delivery have been introduced. These terms –eHealth, Telemedicine, mHealth, and Telehealth –have been used interchangeably in many instances, although they all represent different scopes.
Regardless of the buzzword currently dominating news headlines in the healthcare industry, the objectives of all the ‘health-terms’ are the same –improving the quality, efficiency, and cost of care by exploring advances in technology. Generally, these terms, in harmony, play distinct roles in patient self-management, therapy monitoring, and medicine management processes. Telemedicine is perhaps the most popular of these terms today. The culmination of this technology is online doctor services, which has grown immensely since the start of the pandemic.
Telehealth and eHealth: Differences and Scope of Coverage
In 2018, the World Health Assembly acknowledged the potential benefit of digital technologies in achieving the projected global health goals. The resolution reached in 2018 prompted member nations to prioritize the development of plans to explore digital technology in advancing healthcare delivery, promoting Universal Healthcare Coverage, and advancing the Sustainable Development Goals. In a bid to design a feasible plan and also perfectly capture the scopes initially identified, the ‘health-term’ was developed.
Although these terms are sometimes used interchangeably in many publications, they are different and describe different scopes of digital healthcare delivery. eHealth is the broader term, describing the use of information and communication technology (ICT) in health-related services. In essence, the term also covers all aspects of telemedicine-related services, electronic medication overview, electronic health records, and electronic patient monitoring services.
The World Health Organization describes eHealth as ‘the cost-effective and secure use of information and communications technologies in support of health and healthcare-related fields, including healthcare services, health surveillance, health literature and health technology, knowledge and research.’ In a similar vein, the European Commission defines eHealth as ‘the use of modern information and communication technologies to meet the needs of citizens, patients, healthcare professionals, healthcare providers as well as policymakers.’
Judging from the global recognition given to eHealth in the drive for the digitization of healthcare delivery, it has grown as an umbrella, parent term covering all terms in digital healthcare delivery –including Telehealth, Mobile Health (mHealth), Health IT Systems, Consumer Health IT Data and Virtual Healthcare. Compared to Telehealth, the concept of eHealth is not restricted to remote delivery of healthcare services. It is, however, focused on increasing the efficiency of healthcare delivery across all channels aided by information and communication technology.
Telehealth, on the other hand, describes the practice of exploring ICT in delivering quality healthcare remotely. Primarily, telehealth is aimed at providing healthcare services in remote areas without access to medical care through the internet. Web Doctors’ online doctor services use this method of healthcare delivery to organize virtual consultation sessions, order clinical tests online, issues a prescription, and monitor patients’ response to therapy. It is common to see many publications use ‘Telehealth’ and ‘Telemedicine’ interchangeably. Both terms still describe how healthcare professionals use the internet and other communication platforms to deliver medical care and offer expert guidance to registered patients.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), telehealth is described as the ‘delivery of healthcare services, where patients and providers are separated by distance, by using ICT for the exchange of information for the diagnosis and treatment of diseases and injuries, research evaluation and for the continuing education of health professionals. The Department of Health Care Services expanded on this definition, describing telehealth as ‘the mode of delivering public healthcare via information and communication technologies to facilitate diagnosis, consultation, treatment, education, care management, and self-management while the patient is at the originating site and the healthcare provider is at a distant site.
In essence, telehealth is identified with direct medical care as it covers teleradiology, telepsychiatry, telepathology, teledermatology, and remote patient monitoring. The WHO global survey report on eHealth in 2016 confirmed that more than 50% of responding countries to the Telehealth initiative have a specific national telehealth policy, with over 75% having teleradiology and about half reported a telepathology program, a teledermatology program, and a patent monitoring program.
eHealth allows a quick comparison between different health innovations and assurance interventions while systematically improving the overall quality of global healthcare delivery systems. Telehealth has also significantly improved the delivery of personalized clinical healthcare remotely.