There is no difference between e-health and washing powder.

Washing Powder

Both “e-Health” and “washing powder” claim that they are “new”, where in fact they are merely a new label, with no difference when compared to earlier products.  It is quite common for washing powder producers to market their products as “brand new”, just because it sells. That is exactly the case with e-Health, it is just a marketing term to sell a quite old product: use of computers in the medical domain. e-Health is simply nothing new at all in the world of health care informatics:  it uses computers to get some data in, and at another time and another location someone gets these data out and tries to puzzle the meaning out of the data. 

Decades of Data Exchange

In earlier days the discipline of medical informatics focused on processing data, deriving meaning from the data, and hoping this has a positive effect on the treatment and care for patients. In the late eighties, one of my idols in the field, professor van Bemmel, pointed this out quite clearly: all information processing in health care starts and ends with the human being. At that time it became quite common that data for observations, diagnoses, treatment and care where stored in an hospital information system, which was networked throughout the whole hospital. And for over 25 year we exchange data electronically between systems inside and outside the hospital.

Hype Driven Developments

In our modern times we see technologies that we apply in healthcare skyrocket. Of course we had the mid nineties sky-high “telemedicine and telehealth and all kinds of telematics applications, implying that the physical distance could be a couple of miles more compared to the hospital  boarders, or general practitioner to pharmacy lines. At the end of that era the electronic patient record came into being to store, use and present patient data, to get proper meaning from it and of course to improve the diagnostic, treatment and care capacities of the human professional. And then the internet exploded and now every electronic health record or personal health record vendor with some self esteem moves to the Software As A Service principle to help health professionals with the data capture, management, presentation via the internet, but in particular again to get meaning out of it so that the patient is treated well.

Meaningful to Patients?

Of course there is some development: the user friendliness of the technology improved quite a lot actually, even so that now patients thrust themselves to become part of that earlier obscure world of health informatics. And, using the word e-health, like in e-banking, and e-booking and e-gardening, that very very very difficult activity of taking responsibility and care of your own health has become in the mainstream of normal day to day patient activities. So e-health itself does not change a byte in the use of computers in health care. However, there might be a change in the field, bringing back responsibilities to where they belong because the use of computer technology becomes easier. If we accept that as a fact, I prefer ‘e-responsible’ as preferred term to precisely describe what we mean. But would that sell? We will continue to see terms that are catchy and that help the hype move up. It is our duty however to ensure that beyond the hype, e-health brings us what is really meaningful to patients. 


Sources: Bemmel, J., van & Willems, J. 1989.  Handboek Medische  Informatica. Utrecht, Bohn, Scheltema & Holkema.


Column:There is no difference between e-health and washing powder.
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William Goossen
Electronic Health Record
Electronic Medical Record
Personal Health Record
Chronic Disease Management
Child Health Record
Ehealth General
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