When it comes to the realm of digital health, common language around terminology does not exist. eHealth, mHealth, and even digital health are just some of the terms used interchangeably to describe the intersection of technology and healthcare in some way. Which leads one to ask, which term is best, and does it even matter?
Terminology debates: The issue
Much of research and work in the digital health space overlaps, but if interpretations vary between what terms refer to, there can be needless segregation where collaborations could take place instead.
Inconsistencies in defining eHealth has been examined before. One 2012 study titled, “How Should We Define eHealth, and Does the Definition Matter?” investigated the variations in how eHealth is defined. The findings revealed that there are major inconsistencies in how eHealth is used, and what it includes. It was unclear for instance whether eHealth covers topics like telehealth or web-based information for clinicians and patients. The study concluded that while the term eHealth has been around since the late 1990s, there is still no universal consensus as to what it implies.
There are increasingly emerging definitions of eHealth, digital health, and more but interpretations continue to vary widely. eHealth has been broadly defined by the World Health Organization as the use of information and communication technologies for health, while digital health is described more broadly as an umbrella term for areas including eHealth, telehealth, and more.
Do the differences really matter?
On the surface it would seem that the definitions of eHealth and digital health are trivial. It is difficult to know how off-putting or segregating these inconsistencies can be. For instance, would some researchers be less interested in an “eHealth” conference if they by default interpret it as less relevant to them than a conference in “digital health”? Would comparisons in eHealth initiatives and their policy and/or spending be challenging or impossible if eHealth is knowingly defined differently? It is hard to say, and challenging to prove.
Ultimately what groups and organizations can do is clearly identify the terminology that they associate with, as well as their preferred interpretation. At minimum this can make it clearer where the group’s interests lie, and hopefully leading to relevant collaborations for the future.