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Procedia Computer Science 00 (2016) 000–000
1877-0509 © 2016 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V.
Peer-review under responsibility of SciKA - Association for Promotion and Dissemination of Scientific Knowledge.
Conference on ENTERprise Information Systems / International Conference on Project
MANagement / Conference on Health and Social Care Information Systems and Technologies,
CENTERIS / ProjMAN / HCist 2016, October 5-7, 2016
Digital health innovation ecosystems: From systematic literature
review to conceptual framework
Gloria Ejehiohen Iyawaa,c,
, Marlien Herselmana,b, Adele Bothaa,b
aUniversity of South Africa, Pretoria, 0001, South Africa
bCSIR, Meiring Naude Road, CSIR Campus, Building 43, Pretoria, 0001, South Africa
cUniversity of Namibia, Windhoek, 9000, Namibia
This paper reviews existing literature on digital health innovation ecosystems. It aims to explore the terms digital health,
innovation and digital ecosystems to identify components towards presenting a conceptual framework for a digital health
innovation ecosystem as part of a larger study. A systematic literature review was conducted on four academic databases: ACM,
ScienceDirect, IEEE Xplore and SpringerLink. Due to the dearth in initial search results, the search was broadened to include
non-academic publications and practitioner case reports. The study identified components of digital health, components of
innovation relevant to the healthcare domain and components of digital ecosystems. It further suggests, within the context, a
comprehensive definition of digital health innovation ecosystems. A conceptual framework for digital health innovation
ecosystems is proposed. The findings from this study could conceivably be a step towards enabling a common understanding of
practitioners, professionals and academics within the digital health domain as well as a basis for further studies on digital health
© 2016 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V.
Peer-review under responsibility of SciKA - Association for Promotion and Dissemination of Scientific Knowledge.
Keywords: Digital health; innovation; digital ecosystems.
* Corresponding author. Tel.: +264814545413
E-mail address: email@example.com
2 Iyawa et al./ Procedia Computer Science 00 (2016) 000–000
Innovation is described as the ability to create new ideas1-3. Innovation has been applied in different contexts4-5
and the healthcare sector is no exception6-7. Recent trends in healthcare innovation explore user participation in the
healthcare delivery process8-9,55. Digital health is an example of healthcare innovation, as it provides a platform in
which digital technologies facilitate patients’ participation in the healthcare delivery process9. Studies have
identified innovative approaches to improve existing health models, for example, incorporating innovation
ecosystems into providing digital health services10-12,32,33.
Although digital health is a trending topic15, and digital ecosystems are being discussed in academic
literature34,61,62, the term digital health innovation ecosystem is rarely discussed12 and has not been clearly defined in
academic literature. Furthermore, there is limited theoretical research that focuses on the components that constitute
digital health innovation ecosystems. This paper aims to explore the terms digital health, innovation and digital
ecosystems to identify components towards presenting a conceptual framework for a digital health innovation
ecosystem as part of a larger study. Therefore, this study contributes to the emerging body of literature on digital
health innovation ecosystems.
2. Research method
Petticrew and Roberts13 describe a systematic literature review as “literature reviews that adhere closely to a set
of scientific methods that explicitly aim to limit systematic error (bias), mainly by attempting to identify, appraise
and synthesize all relevant studies (of whatever design) in order to answer a particular question (or set of
questions)”. Furthermore, Okoli14 recommends that studies which aim to make a contribution rather than summarise
existing literature should adopt a systematic literature review approach. As this study aims to explore the terms
digital health, innovation and digital ecosystems and contribute to the emerging body of literature on digital health
innovation ecosystems, a systematic literature review was applied.
A systematic literature review was conducted on the following topics: digital health, innovation and digital
ecosystems. A systematic literature review was conducted on four academic databases: ACM, ScienceDirect, IEEE
Xplore and SpringerLink. In order to broaden the search, non-academic publications and practitioner case reports
were also used. Search keywords include digital health, innovation, and digital ecosystems. The search was
conducted between February and March 2016.
Books, book chapters, journal articles, conference papers, non-academic publications and practitioner case
reports related to digital health, innovation, and digital ecosystems were selected. Only publications written in
English were included. Duplicate publications were excluded from the search. Title and abstracts were first screened
for relevance before full-text documents were screened.
The findings are categorised under different themes: definition of digital health, definition of innovation,
definition of digital ecosystems, components of digital health, components of innovation and components of digital
ecosystems. The components are presented in a tabular format with a description of each component identified. A
comprehensive definition of digital health innovation ecosystems is also presented.
In total, 65 publications were included in the current review, with (n=35) publications on digital health, (n=18)
publications on innovation and (n=12) publications on digital ecosystems. The results of the study are provided in
3.1. Definition of digital health
Different authors agree that digital health involves the use of different healthcare technologies in administering
healthcare services to enhance patients’ health15-18. In addition, while Sonnier18 and Baumann17 believe that digital
health helps in monitoring patients’ health, Sonnier18 emphasises that digital health not only enhances patients’
health but also enables families to assist in the process by monitoring patients’ health. In contrast to existing
Iyawa et al./ Procedia Computer Science 00 (2016) 000–000 3
definitions of digital health, Robinson et al.19 insist that digital health “lacks theoretical definition”. However,
Robinson et al.19 suggest that digital health is the “use of digital media to transform the way healthcare provision is
conceived and delivered”.
Furthermore, a proper definition of digital health should include the stakeholders involved in healthcare provision
and delivery processes. In addition to the definitions of digital health provided by Kotskov16, Mellodge and
Vendetti15, Sonnier18, Baumann17, Robinson et al.19 and for the purpose of this study, digital health is defined as: an
improvement in the way healthcare provision is conceived and delivered by healthcare providers through the use of
information and communication technologies to monitor and improve the wellbeing and health of patients and to
empower patients in the management of their health and that of their families.
3.2. Components of digital health
The components that constitute digital health were identified in selected literature. The components of digital
health presented in Table 1 were considered relevant for this study for two reasons:
The components were either stated as components of digital health by the authors or
Descriptions or the purpose of the components were in alignment with the definition of digital health for
The components of digital health identified in selected literature are described in Table 1.
Table 1. Components of digital health
E-health refers to the use of internet and web technologies in the provision of healthcare delivery services23.
M-health refers to the use of mobile devices in administering healthcare services24.
Health 2.0/Medicine 2.0 refers to “the integration of Web 2.0 in the utilization of healthcare and medicine to enable
and facilitate specifically social networking, participation, apomediation, collaboration, and openness within and
between these user groups”25.
Telemedicine/telecare refers to the use of different information and communication technologies (ICTs) by
physicians to remotely connect with patients.26
Public health surveillance is used in gathering health information of a specific population27 to facilitate “decision
making”28 regarding the health of the population in a particular setting.
Personalized medicine refers to the provision of unique treatment to patients based on their genetic and genomic
Health and medical
Health and medical platforms include online platforms such as online forums37 that help foster interaction between
patients and experts.
Health promotion strategies refer to “the process of enabling people to increase control over their health and its
determinants, and thereby improve their health”.50
Quantified self-tracking enables patients to monitor their health status by adopting a wide range of technologies that
facilitate the process42.
Wireless sensors refer to the use of different wireless monitoring devices situated in a wireless network used for
monitoring patients’ health by a physician.43
Genomics emphasizes how patients uniquely react to diseases based on their genomic components.44
Imaging/medical imaging refers to “techniques and processes used to create images of various parts of the human
body for diagnostic and treatment purposes within digital health”45.
Information systems in healthcare refer to health information systems. According to Cline and Luiz51, these systems
can significantly improve healthcare delivery services to patients.
4 Iyawa et al./ Procedia Computer Science 00 (2016) 000–000
Mobile connectivity and bandwidth facilitate the connectivity of different digital health technologies for physicians to
remain digitally connected to patients.
In healthcare specifically, the use of the Internet facilitates information sharing23.
Social networking platforms on which health professionals and patients can share information52.
and data universe40
Digital health facilitates the management of patient health information by medical practitioners, patients and their
families18. Therefore, digital health will require information that can be accessed at different places and at different
times, hence the need for high computing power and the data universe. Digital health requires high computing power
The “ability of two or more systems or components to exchange information and to use the information that has been
Wearable technologies are devices that inform the user when they are worn.49
Health and wellness
Health and wellness apps refer to mobile applications used for disseminating health information to patients to
facilitate the management of health by the patient.8
Gamification in healthcare facilitates patients into performing certain activities in relation to health practices.48
Electronic health records (EHRs) consist of all the combinations of patient health information from past and previous
visits to a health institution, which can be presented to a medical practitioner to make decisions regarding a patient’s
Electronic medical records (EMRs) are “computerized medical information systems that collect, store and display
patient information”65. Furthermore, EMRs enhance eligibility of patient records and have also been used to improve
decision making in emergency departments.66
Big data21,18, 22
Snijders, Matzat and Reips46 define big data as a “term used to describe data sets so large and complex that they
become awkward to work with using standard statistical software”.
Health information technology refers to the “application of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT)
involving both computer hardware and software that deal with the processing, storage, retrieval, sharing and use of
health care information, data, and knowledge for communication and decision making”39.
The “software solutions and analytical capabilities needed to assimilate big data”38.
The “storage and exchange of digitized patient medical records”38.
Privacy and security41
Privacy and security are measures taken to ensure that patients’ health information is well protected. Patients also
want to maintain privacy in the way health information is accessed in EMRs67
The use of cloud computing in deploying healthcare services to patients64.
3.3. Definition of innovation
Discussions on innovation have been recorded in existing literature over a long period of time35,1,2. Therefore, the
concept of innovation is not new. However, innovation has been defined from different perspectives. The
commonality among the different definitions of innovation is that innovation is described as the creation of new
ideas to improve the output of a firm1,2.
Innovation has been applied in the context of healthcare6,7. Omachonu and Einspruch6 and Thankur, Hsu and
Fontenot7 have provided definitions of innovation in healthcare. Thankur et al.’s7 definition of healthcare innovation
implies that health practices that have proven to have the best approach in healthcare are used in administering
health services to patients. The focus of this study is on healthcare innovation. Adopting the definitions of
Omachonu and Einspruch6 and Thankur et al. and for the purpose of this study, healthcare innovation is defined as:
the adoption of those best-demonstrated practices that have been proven to be successful and implementation of
those practices aimed at improving treatment, diagnosis, education, outreach, prevention and research, and with the
long term goals of improving quality, safety, outcomes, efficiency and costs.
Iyawa et al./ Procedia Computer Science 00 (2016) 000–000 5
3.4. Components of innovation
The components that constitute innovation were identified in selected literature. The components of innovation
presented in Table 2 were considered relevant for this study for two reasons:
The components were either stated as relating to innovation by the authors or
Descriptions or the purpose of the components were in alignment with the definition of healthcare
innovation for this study.
Furthermore, these components can be applied within the healthcare context. The components of innovation
identified in selected literature are described in Table 2.
Table 2. Components of innovation
Process innovation “entails innovations in the production or delivery method. The customer does not usually pay
directly for process, but the process is required to deliver a product or service and to manage the relationship
with the various stakeholders”58.
Product innovation is the product that “the customer pays for and typically consists of goods or services”58.
Varkey, Horne and Bennet58 also explain that “clinical procedure innovations belong t o the category of product
Varkey et al.58 indicate that “structural innovation usually affects the internal and external infrastructure, and
creates new business models”.
Omachonu and Einspruch6 state that information technology is a component of innovation.
Closed innovation refers to a single entity exploring innovative ideas in isolation56. An entity could include a
single company, business or institution.
Open innovation refers to an entity participating in sharing and gaining ideas from other entities56.
Open innovation 2.059
Open innovation 2.0 is referred to as a “new paradigm based on principles of integrated collaboration, co-created
shared values, cultivated innovation ecosystems, unleashed exponential technologies and extraordinarily rapid
Spruijt57 defines an innovation ecosystem as a “dynamic system” which “contains complex feedback loops,
causal links, flows, stocks, delays among the agents”.
Triple Helix system53
The concept of Triple Helix idealizes on universities, industries and government taking centre stage in the
innovation process53. Within the healthcare sector, the Triple Helix system can also be applied to include
stakeholders from universities, industries and the government70.
This refers to a process in which users of a product participate in the innovation process55,54,30. User innovation
has been applied within the healthcare domain55.
Intellectual property rights can be used to reduce chances of intellectual properties being stolen by others on an
innovation platform. Intellectual property rights can also be applied within the healthcare sector to improve
3.5. Definition of digital ecosystems
Over the years, different definitions of digital ecosystems have emerged. For example, Chang and West34 define
a digital ecosystem as an “open, loosely coupled, domain clustered, demand-driven, self-organising agents’
environment, where each species is proactive and responsive for its own benefit or profit”. This definition suggests
that each species present in a digital ecosystem participates with the aim of achieving something. Similar definitions
of digital ecosystems by Hadzic and Dillion32 and Serbanatti and Vasilateanu11 imply that interacting components in
a digital ecosystem should be connected. However, Briscoe and De Wilde68 insist that participants in a digital
ecosystem need not be in a specific location to be connected. Kolb63 provides a different perspective to digital
ecosystems as he defines a digital ecosystem as a “community of digital devices and their environment functioning
as a whole”. Digital devices provide information to the other components in the ecosystem. The digital ecosystem
simulates the actions portrayed by organisms in a natural ecosystem31.
6 Iyawa et al./ Procedia Computer Science 00 (2016) 000–000
Furthermore, Hadzic and Dillion32 describe a digital ecosystem as “complex”. Ion et al.69 postulate that the
complexity of digital ecosystems could be attributed to the differences in the objectives of participants who take part
in the activities of the digital ecosystem.
Adopting the definitions of Hadzic and Dillon32 and Serbanatti et al.10 and for the purpose of this study, a digital
ecosystem can thus be defined as: a network of digital communities consisting of interconnected, interrelated and
interdependent digital species, including stakeholders, institutions and digital devices situated in a digital
environment, that interact as a functional unit and are linked together through actions, information and transaction
3.6. Components of digital ecosystems
The components that constitute digital ecosystems were identified in selected literature. The components of
digital ecosystems presented in Table 3 were considered relevant for this study for two reasons:
The components were either stated as relating to digital ecosystems by the authors or
Descriptions or the purpose of the components were in alignment with the definition of digital
ecosystems for this study.
Furthermore, these components can be applied within the healthcare context. The components of digital
ecosystems are described in Table 3.
Table 3. Components of digital ecosystems
Community in digital ecosystems refers to the entire species available within the digital ecosystem environment.29
Content in digital ecosystems refers to information or services which are of use to the species available within the
In order for the different species to be comfortable and operate freely, practice is required.29
Technology in digital ecosystems refers to hardware and software responsible for the information interchange within
the digital ecosystem. 29
The people who participate in the digital ecosystem.34
The different companies and institutions that participate in the digital ecosystem.34
The digital devices, software and hardware used by people and different companies and institutions that participate in
the digital ecosystem.34
The platform on which digital species interact.32,10
The protection of resources and species in the digital ecosystem.61
The trust that all species in the digital ecosystems are focused on achieving the same goal.62
3.7. Definition of digital health innovation ecosystems
Working definitions of digital health, innovation and digital ecosystems have been provided. A proposed
definition of digital health innovation ecosystems should contain the essence of the definitions for digital health,
innovation and digital ecosystems. Based on the discussions related to digital health, innovation and digital
ecosystems, a digital health innovation ecosystem can be defined as: a network of digital health communities
consisting of interconnected, interrelated and interdependent digital health species, including healthcare
stakeholders, healthcare institutions and digital healthcare devices situated in a digital health environment, who
adopt the best-demonstrated practices that have been proven to be successful, and implementation of those practices
through the use of information and communication technologies to monitor and improve the wellbeing and health of
patients, to empower patients in the management of their health and that of their families.
A conceptual framework for a digital health innovation ecosystem is presented in Fig. 1, showing the underlying
relationships of the different components identified in selected literature.
Iyawa et al./ Procedia Computer Science 00 (2016) 000–000 7
4. Preliminary conceptual digital health innovation ecosystem framework
A definition for Digital Health Innovation Ecosystems has been proposed. A preliminary conceptual framework
is presented in Fig 1. The conceptual framework summarises the components that constitute digital health
innovation ecosystems as explained in this study. The conceptual framework will form a basis in which further
studies in Digital Health Innovation Ecosystems are built.
Fig. 1 Conceptual framework for digital health innovation ecosystems
This study contributes to the emerging body of literature on digital health innovation ecosystems. A definition of
digital health innovation ecosystems and components of digital health innovation ecosystems is provided within the
academic domain. A conceptual framework for digital health innovation ecosystems is proposed. The findings from
this study could conceivably be a step towards enabling a common understanding of practitioners, professionals and
academics within the digital health domain as well as a basis for further studies on digital health innovation
The components of digital health, innovation and digital ecosystems were selected based on their descriptions
and purpose, aligned to the definitions of digital health, innovation and digital ecosystems for this study or based on
the authors stating that these components were either related to digital health, innovation and digital ecosystems. As
a result, other relevant components of digital health, innovation and digital ecosystems that did not match our
inclusion criteria might have been excluded and hence, affected the results. However, for further studies, the
inclusion criteria may be broadened to include other relevant components of digital health, innovation and digital
ecosystems. Future work would be to examine how the components of the proposed conceptual framework
presented in this study have been applied in developed and developing countries.
8 Iyawa et al./ Procedia Computer Science 00 (2016) 000–000
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