eHealth applications to support independent living of older persons: Scoping review of costs and benefits identified in economic evaluations

Sandra Sülz*, Hilco J. van Elten, Marjan Askari, Anne Marie Weggelaar-Jansen, Robbert Huijsman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleAcademicpeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)
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Background: eHealth applications are constantly increasing and are frequently considered to constitute a promising strategy for cost containment in health care, particularly if the applications aim to support older persons. Older persons are, however, not the only major eHealth stakeholder. eHealth suppliers, caregivers, funding bodies, and health authorities are also likely to attribute value to eHealth applications, but they can differ in their value attribution because they are affected differently by eHealth costs and benefits. Therefore, any assessment of the value of eHealth applications requires the consideration of multiple stakeholders in a holistic and integrated manner. Such a holistic and reliable value assessment requires a profound understanding of the application's costs and benefits. The first step in measuring costs and benefits is identifying the relevant costs and benefit categories that the eHealth application affects. 

Objective: The aim of this study is to support the conceptual phase of an economic evaluation by providing an overview of the relevant direct and indirect costs and benefits incorporated in economic evaluations so far. 

Methods: We conducted a systematic literature search covering papers published until December 2019 by using the Embase, Medline Ovid, Web of Science, and CINAHL EBSCOhost databases. We included papers on eHealth applications with web-based contact possibilities between clients and health care providers (mobile health apps) and applications for self-management, telehomecare, telemedicine, telemonitoring, telerehabilitation, and active healthy aging technologies for older persons. We included studies that focused on any type of economic evaluation, including costs and benefit measures. 

Results: We identified 55 papers with economic evaluations. These studies considered a range of different types of costs and benefits. Costs pertained to implementation activities and operational activities related to eHealth applications. Benefits (or consequences) could be categorized according to stakeholder groups, that is, older persons, caregivers, and health care providers. These benefits can further be divided into stakeholder-specific outcomes and resource usage. Some cost and benefit types have received more attention than others. For instance, patient outcomes have been predominantly captured via quality-of-life considerations and various types of physical health status indicators. From the perspective of resource usage, a strong emphasis has been placed on home care visits and hospital usage. 

Conclusions: Economic evaluations of eHealth applications are gaining momentum, and studies have shown considerable variation regarding the costs and benefits that they include. We contribute to the body of literature by providing a detailed and up-to-date framework of cost and benefit categories that any interested stakeholder can use as a starting point to conduct an economic evaluation in the context of independent living of older persons.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere24363
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 9 Mar 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by Dutch ZonMw grant number 639003401. The authors would like to thank Wichor Bramer from the Erasmus MC Medical Library for developing and updating the search strategies. The authors further benefited from discussions with the project team Value-Driven eHealth, that is, Rachita Auragh, Karlijn Cranen, Tyrell Creton, Marleen de Mul, and Mildred Visser and their collaboration with Henk Herman Nap (Vilans) and Eveline Wouters (Tilburg University and Tranzo).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Journal of Medical Internet Research. All rights reserved.

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