Despite increasing interest in digital public health, there appears to be a lack of clarity and consensus on its definition.
In this scoping review, we assessed formal and informal definitions of digital public health in the literature.
We conducted a scoping literature search in OVID Medline, Embase, Google Scholar and on 14 government and intergovernmental agency websites encompassing six geographical regions. Among a total of 409 full articles identified, we reviewed 12 publications that formally defined digital public health and/or informally described the integration of digital technologies in public health in relation to digitization, digitalization, and digital transformation, and conducted a thematic analysis of the identified definitions.
We identified two explicit definitions of digital public health with divergent meanings. While one definition is predicated on digitalization, and involves the integration of digital technologies to achieve existing public health goals, the other implies transformation of public health services and goals, leveraging digital technology to improve health outcomes. Further, we found that when described in relation to public health, digitization refers to the conversion of analog records to digital information, digitalization involves the integration of digital technologies into public health operations, and digital transformation involves a cultural shift that pervasively integrates digital technologies and reorganizes service based on the health needs of the public.
The definition of digital public health remains contested in the literature. Public health researchers and practitioners need to clarify these conceptual definitions to harness opportunities to integrate digital technologies in public health in a way that maximizes their potential to improve public health outcomes.