Family Doctor or Digital Assistant: Controversies Regarding eHealth

The replacement of family doctors by personal digital assistants has become increasingly popular, although it's sometimes a cause for concern. Today, we'll take a closer look at the controversies regarding eHealth.
Family Doctor or Digital Assistant: Controversies Regarding eHealth

Last update: 31 March, 2021

New technological developments are bursting onto the health scene in the era of personal trainers and mobile applications that measure pulse rates, sleep quality, and even the steps we take. The transition from family doctors to personal digital assistants is a growing reality. These initiatives – or some of them – generate conflicting sensations and expectations. With that in mind, we want to talk about the controversies regarding eHealth.

What is eHealth?

eHealth, or electronic/digital health, consists of the use of information and communication technologies as a complement to health practices.

What are its uses?

eHealth can be useful for prevention, diagnosis, treatment and monitoring. In addition, it’s useful in health management, with the objective of improving efficiency at an accessible cost.

Thus, the health scenario currently offers multiple innovations that can awaken conflicting desires and needs. Some of them contemplate the passage and even the replacement of family doctors with personal digital assistants.

Family Doctor or Digital Assistant: Controversies Regarding eHealth

However, there are many controversies regarding eHealth. While developers see a promising future, health professionals sometimes perceive the use of these tools as a potential threat.

New technologies include, for example, text messaging or SMS, which allows people to ask health professionals questions when they feel it’s necessary. At the same time, we have the appearance of so-called “chatbots” or computer programs designed to carry on a conversation. All are subject to questions regarding the privacy of information.

Controversies regarding eHealth: Are text messages effective?

Cristina Jenaro and collaborators, in a study they carried out and published in 2016, determined that “intervention based on sending SMS is a promising and efficient strategy for promoting healthy habits in older people.”

However, at the same time, there are numerous questions and concerns regarding whether or not the use of digital health can imply certain risks in terms of the possibility of deferring a diagnosis and, consequently, access to timely treatment.

From family doctors to personal digital assistants

Virtual medical visits: Reality or utopia?

Thinking about virtual medical visits some time ago would have seemed like a utopia or the product of an imaginative mind. Today, it’s a growing reality and it’s possible for its availability to increase progressively.

Family Doctor or Digital Assistant: Controversies Regarding eHealth

The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) suggests practicing caution in the use of these services. Accordingly, Lord O’Shaughnessy, a member of the UK Department of Health, noted in September 2018, that “artificial intelligence is a field that moves at the speed of light and has tremendous potential across the health sector.”

In this sense, Lord O’Shaughnessy considered this “an important first step towards creating a safe and reliable environment in which innovation can flourish for the benefit of our health.”

Controversies regarding eHealth: Conclusions

To conclude, digital health constitutes an important contribution that doesn’t necessarily compete with or threaten quality health. Therefore, it’s essential to contribute to the development of synergies.

In short: It’s important that the health professional not perceive this practice as a threat, an affront to the long nights of study that their professions demand, or a barrier to effective communication between the health professional and their patients.

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  • Jenaro, Cristina, Flores, Noelia, Cruz, Maribel, Moro, Lourdes, & Pérez, Carmen. (2016). Eficacia de los mensajes de texto para el cuidado de la salud en población mayor. Gerokomos27(2), 42-47. Recuperado en 05 de enero de 2020, de http://scielo.isciii.es/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S1134-928X2016000200002&lng=es&tlng=es