Clinical videoconferencing as ehealth: A critical-realist review and qualitative meta-synthesis
Background: Earlier work has described videoconferencing technologies, peripheral equipment, organizational models, human relations, purposes, goals and roles as versatile, multifaceted, and those used differently in different clinical practices. Knowledge about benefits and challenges connected to specific characteristics of services are lacking. A 2005 systematic review of published definitions of electronic health (eHealth) identified 51 unique definitions. In addition, the “10 E’s of eHealth” was developed. In 2015, the question “What Is eHealth: Time for an Update?” was posed.
Objective: Considering videoconferencing as eHealth, the objective of the paper is twofold: to demonstrate and cluster (different) clinical videoconferencing practices and their situated implications and to suggest interpretive concepts that apply to all clusters and contribute to generative learning of eHealth by discussing the concepts as add-ons to existing descriptions of eHealth in the “10 E’s of eHealth.”
Methods: We performed a literature search via the National Center for Biotechnology Information, encompassing PubMed and PubMedCentral, for quality reviews and primary studies. We used the terms “videoconferencing” and “clinical practices.” The selection process was based upon clearly defined criteria. We used an electronic form to extract data. The analysis was inspired by critical and realist review types, grounded theory, and qualitative meta-synthesis.
Results: The search returned 354 reviews and primary studies. This paper considered the primary studies, and 16 were included. We identified the following 4 broad clusters: videoconferencing as a controlled technological intervention within existing health care organizations for expert advice, controlled mixed interventions with experimental organizational arrangements, videoconferencing as an emerging technosocial service involving dialogue and empowerment of patients, and videoconferencing as a controlled intervention to improve administrative efficiency. The analysis across the clusters resulted in a proposal to add the following 4 D’s to the existing 10 E’s: (inter)-dependent, differentiated across services and along temporal lines, dynamic in terms of including novel elements for meeting incremental needs, and demanding in terms of making new challenges and dual results visible and needing fresh resources to meet those challenges. For a normative discussion about what eHealth should be according to authors’ conclusions, results suggested ethical, in that users interests should be respected, and not harmful in terms of increasing symptom burden.
Conclusions: Services were enacted as dynamic, differentiated concerning content and considerations of quality and adaptive along temporal lines. They were made to work from an ongoing demand for fresh resources, making them interdependent. The 4 D’s—Dynamic, Differentiated, Demanding, and (inter) Dependent—serve as pragmatic add-ons to the “10 E’s of eHealth.” Questions concerning outcome of specified balances between standardization and customization in clinical settings should be addressed in future research along with the emerging dual character of outcome: services being considered both “good” and “bad.”