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E-health: Beyond internet searches

Gurak, Laura J. and Hudson, Brenda L. (2006). E-health: Beyond internet searches. In: Internet and Health Care.

This book chapter provides an overview of e-health and examines two applications: clinical service and healthcare professional education, as well as the issue of privacy with its significant implications across e-health applications.

Clinical applications include interactive telemedicine for remote consultations and diagnoses, managing chronic disorders via the Internet, electronic medical records, and tele-homecare. In addition to patient care, e-health has applications in clinical research, such as an electronic primary care research network, being developed at the University of Minnesota under the NIH Roadmap initiative to electronically network primary care physicians—tapping into a previously under-utilized patient base, as primary care providers deliver the majority of patient care in the U.S. Health education initiatives include online courses, virtual clinics where students “see? mock patients through virtual technology, and simulated anatomy lessons.

However, in both clinical and educational applications, barriers exist. The technology itself may not be available at a certain site; there may be resistance from medical professionals to the applications; and clinics and hospitals may lack financial backing to implement applications. In addition, it is important to remember that newer technologies in and of themselves do not result in better care or education.

Another particular concern in e-health is privacy, including: individuals’ right to determine what information is collected and how it is used; ability to access personal information held and know that it is accurate and safe; anonymity in Web-usage; and, ability to send and receive e-mail messages or other data without being intercepted or read by persons other than the intended recipient(s). In addition to technological measures to help maintain privacy (such as firewalls, message and browser encryption, and digital signatures), human judgment is also required; for instance, deciding when electronic communication is appropriate.

As e-health develops into more and varied applications, issues of barriers and privacy must be continually addressed.