Disaster e-Health: Scoping the Field
Background: Although both disaster management and disaster medicine have been used for decades, their efficiency and effectiveness have been far from perfect. One reason could be the lack of systematic utilization of modern technologies, such as eHealth, in their operations. To address this issue, researchers’ efforts have led to the emergence of the disaster eHealth (DEH) field. DEH’s main objective is to systematically integrate eHealth technologies for health care purposes within the disaster management cycle (DMC).
Objective: This study aims to identify, map, and define the scope of DEH as a new area of research at the intersection of disaster management, emergency medicine, and eHealth.
Methods: An extensive scoping review using published materials was carried out in the areas of disaster management, disaster medicine, and eHealth to identify the scope of DEH. This review procedure was iterative and conducted in multiple scientific databases in 2 rounds, one using controlled indexed terms and the other using similar uncontrolled terms. In both rounds, the publications ranged from 1990 to 2016, and all the appropriate research studies discovered were considered, regardless of their research design, methodology, and quality. Information extracted from both rounds was thematically analyzed to define the DEH scope, and the results were evaluated by the field experts through a Delphi method.
Results: In both rounds of the research, searching for eHealth applications within DMC yielded 404 relevant studies that showed eHealth applications in different disaster types and disaster phases. These applications varied with respect to the eHealth technology types, functions, services, and stakeholders. The results led to the identification of the scope of DEH, including eHealth technologies and their applications, services, and future developments that are applicable to disasters as well as to related stakeholders. Reference to the elements of the DEH scope indicates what, when, and how current eHealth technologies can be used in the DMC.
Conclusions: Comprehensive data gathering from multiple databases offered a grounded method to define the DEH scope. This scope comprises concepts related to DEH and the boundaries that define it. The scope identifies the eHealth technologies relevant to DEH and the functions and services that can be provided by these technologies. In addition, the scope tells us which groups can use the provided services and functions and in which disaster types or phases. DEH approaches could potentially improve the response to health care demands before, during, and after disasters. DEH takes advantage of eHealth technologies to facilitate DMC tasks and activities, enhance their efficiency and effectiveness, and enhance health care delivery and provide more quality health care services to the wider population regardless of their geographical location or even disaster types and phases.