The Futures of eHealth: Social, Ethical, and Legal Challenges

Analytics, Interoperability, Digital Care, Health Equity & Access

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The Futures of eHealth: Social, Ethical, and Legal Challenges

August 4, 2019

The Futures of eHealth: Social, Ethical, and Legal Challenges

Looking into the futures of eHealth? The title of this publication might seem quite presumptuous at first. Its objective, however, is to serve a much more modest purpose, in that it strives to take a look at potential, likely, desired, anticipated or feared futures of digital health technologies and practices. When analysing the opportunities and risks associated with them as well as the social, legal and ethical challenges they might pose, what we also see in the process are the expectations and promises projected onto them.

eHealth or “digital health”, according to the World Health Organization’s European Office, “involves a broad group of activities that use electronic means to deliver health-related information, resources and services: it is the use of information and communication technologies for health” (World Health Organization 2017). As far as current developments and technological solutions are concerned, the WHO has further identified the following areas:

  • Electronic health records and interoperability of data;
  • Mobile health or mHealth;
  • Telehealth, where a patient can consult with a healthcare worker using Skype or even a regular telephone;
  • Wearable technologies (fitness trackers, medical devices, etc.) and
  • Technologies to support integrated care (WHO 2017).

Looking into the futures of anything always involves creating narratives. Rather unsurprisingly, the WHO’s definition characterises the role of technology use as entailing “strengthening health systems and health information systems” (World Health Organization 2017), a narrative of opportunity. These promises of eHealth are embedded in and reflective of much larger discourses that are often associated with (digital) technologies, which are mainly seen as a remedy to existing social problems. These discourses often centre around terms such as “empowerment”, “democratic potential”, “unifying cross-border force”, “special care for vulnerable groups” or “bridging distances”. And, indeed, there is an abundance of opportunities in digital health solutions that are directly associated with these technologies and practices.

The full paper can be downloaded below.