Global Health Panel Releases New Research Highlighting Ambiguity in Digital Health Definitions

Newswise — Lawrenceville, NJ, USA—August 30, 2022—Health value, the official journal of ISPOR—The Professional Society for Health Economics and Outcomes Research, today announced the publication of a new report examining 4 umbrella terms—digital health, eHealth, mHealth and telehealth/telemedicine—and their definitions related in terms of their applicability to outcome research. The report, “How useful are digital health terms for outcome research? An ISPOR Special Interest Group Report,” will be published in the September 2022 issue of Health value.

“The COVID pandemic has accelerated the use of digital health broadly and telehealth/telemedicine specifically,” said author Anita Burrell, MA, MBA. “And while there is a general enthusiasm for adopting and reimbursing digital technologies, there is still confusion over the terms used. Sometimes they are used interchangeably, and even a single term can have multiple definitions. Without clear definitions, what should be included in an evidence summary for a particular health technology may vary, hampering the design or interpretation of comparative effectiveness research and ultimately the uptake of decision.

To better understand current terminology, ISPOR’s Digital Health Special Interest Group undertook a scoping review of digital health definitions used in the outcome research literature and in practice. The authors identified 142 unique definitions of general terms: digital health (4); e-health (36); mobile health (50 ); and telehealth/telemedicine (52). Overall, digital health and e-health could be considered the broadest and most equivalent terms. Telehealth is a sub-term that includes telemedicine and mobile health, which overlap when mobile devices are used for telemedicine.

It is important to note that an abundance of new definitions have been developed over time. Even after applying text analytics, the definitions of these 4 generic terms are too general and do not specify the functional areas of interventions or outcomes that the respective technologies offer to patients.

For the future, the authors suggest that for evidence reviews, a generic term be accompanied by search terms that specify the patient population and clinical condition, intervention, comparator, outcome, time and the health care setting of interest. An international classification system for digital health technologies with categories related to domains of function, effect and patient outcome is needed to establish a standard terminology for stakeholders involved in the development, use and evaluation of these technologies.

“Our study revealed an overlap between the concepts included in the definitions of generic terms related to digital health, leaving ambiguity about the functional domains of digital health,” Burrell said. We believe that the rapid pace of digitalization requires a bold move to produce a framework that can lead to more targeted, accurate and effective assessments of these technologies, enabling effective digital health interventions to be funded and thereby realizing the benefits of digitalization. digital health.

This report is an important contribution to an increasingly important topic in global health. For more information on ISPOR’s digital health activities, visit ISPOR’s Digital Health Special Interest Group webpage.


ISPOR, the Professional Society for Health Economics and Outcomes Research (HEOR), is an international, multi-stakeholder, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing HEOR excellence to improve decision-making for global health. The Society is the leading source for scientific, peer-reviewed and MEDLINE conferences®-indexed publications, best practice advice, education, collaboration, and tools/resources in the field.
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Health value (ISSN 1098-3015) is an international indexed journal that publishes original health research and policy articles that advance the field of health economics and outcomes research to help health leaders to make evidence-based decisions. The journal’s 2021 Impact Factor score is 5.101 and its 5-year Impact Factor score is 6.747. Health value is ranked 5th out of 87 journals in health policy and services, 7th out of 102 journals in health sciences and services, and 19th out of 371 journals in economics. Health value is a monthly publication distributed to more than 10,000 readers worldwide.
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