JOURNAL ARTICLE

What is eHealth (6): perspectives on the evolution of eHealth research

David K Ahern, Jennifer M Kreslake, Judith M Phalen
Journal of Medical Internet Research 2006, 8 (1): e4
16585029

BACKGROUND: The field of eHealth holds promise for supporting and enabling health behavior change and the prevention and management of chronic disease.

OBJECTIVE: In order to establish areas of congruence and controversy among contributors to the early development, evaluation, and dissemination of eHealth applications, as well as the desire to inform an evaluation research funding agenda, 38 semistructured, qualitative interviews were conducted among stakeholders in eHealth between May 2002 and September 2003.

METHODS: Participants were asked about their perspectives on the credibility, value, and future potential of information technology for health behavior change and chronic disease management. Interviews were coded and analyzed for emergent themes using qualitative methods.

RESULTS: Consistent themes were identified across stakeholder groups, with slight differences in emphasis. These topics included the following: (1) consensus and standardization-most stakeholders expressed a strong desire for a more coordinated, rigorous effort to define and integrate the field; (2) evaluation methods and challenges-demonstrating outcomes is required to establish eHealth quality and efficacy, but stakeholders were not satisfied with the sensitivity, validity, and reliability of existing outcome measures; (3) quality, value, and future potential-the intersection between eHealth's potential cost-effectiveness, efficiency, and improved clinical status among users generated a high degree of interest; and (4) health disparities-many stakeholders contended that traditionally underserved populations will particularly benefit from eHealth applications, although others argued that the underserved are also disadvantaged in terms of access to technology.

CONCLUSIONS: Recommendations included the need for improvement and formalization of development and evaluation standards across private and public sectors, additional research on the technology needs and preferences of traditionally underserved populations, and long-term epidemiologic studies of the impact of eHealth on outcomes and cost-effectiveness.

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