From Telematics to mHealth: Definition of Terms
In the last 40 years or so, digitization in the health sector has made great strides. The establishment and global spread of Personal Digital Assistants - PDAs for short - in the 1990s led to the first major push in this area, although this was still concentrated primarily on the professional sector. The spread of smartphones and the possibility of installing solutions on a wide range of end devices and platforms triggered a global boom in the private sector as well.
So far, the definitions of terms have hardly been able to keep pace with these developments. There is still no uniform definition set. This goes so far that different legal texts interpret terms diametrically differently.
In the following, we give a short historical overview of how the terms have developed over time.
70s - Telematics
At the beginning of the development was telematics. Telematics is derived from the Greek word "Telos" and means "far away". Telematics is an artificial word that is made up of telecommunications and computer science. Telematics can be found in many areas of life. Four main categories have emerged: Industry Telematics, Vehicle Telematics, Human Telematics and M2M Telematics (Machine to Machine).
80s - Human Telematics or Telemedicine
The term Telemedicine quickly developed from the term Human Telematics. According to the German Federal Ministry of Research, Telematics in the health care system bridges "space and time in the provision of data, information, experience and knowledge for the fulfilment of tasks of all participants in the health care system.” (1) (2)
90s - Telemedicine (device focus) and Telehealth (service focus)
Although both terms are often used interchangeably, there are differences. The definition of Telemedicine was originally narrower. It referred to the first applications and described the treatment of patients who were in a separate location and were cared for remotely with appropriate equipment. The definition of Telehealth is broader. The term covers the entire treatment in the clinical environment as well as outside of it. There is a stronger focus on telemedical services. These also include services such as training advice, training in medical issues or the transmission of health information. Telemedicine, Telehealth and eHealth are often used in the context of medical, professional healthcare. (3) (4)
At the turn of the millennium, the term eHealth was introduced and very quickly became established as a generic term for governmental and supranational initiatives. With the introduction of the smartphone, mHealth and Digital Health additional terms followed. More on this and the growth prospects of those industries can be found in a forthcoming blog post.