• Digitising healthcare in the EU : check-up time !

    9 October 2017On the 5th of October DIGITALEUROPE organised the third Digital in Practice Programme (DiPP) workshop on eHealth to take the pulse of the digitisation of healthcare across Europe.

    It was indeed time for check-up at DIGITALEUROPE on October 5 as we ran our third DiPP workshop on eHealth with the help of these distinguished experts: Miguel Gonzalez-Sancho-Bodero, Head of Unit, eHealth, Well-Being and Ageing’, DG CNECT; Monika Rimmele, Senior Policy Advisor, Healthcare, Government Affairs & Policy CEMEA, Siemens Healthcare; Tobias D. Gantner, Founder & CEO, HealthCare Futurists GmbH; Cory Robinson, Senior Lecturer, Linköping University.

    Taking the pulse of the digitisation of healthcare across Europe is arguably a mission of public interest. Perspective heard on 5 October came from three primary constituencies: people, industry and government.

    Public institutions have a hard time realising the magnitude of the ongoing transformation

    Like in many other areas, public institutions are torn apart between EU and national levels; as happens all too often, they also lack proper digital literacy. Both shortcomings take a heavy toll on the uptake of health digitisation in Europe.

    The European Commission sticks to its three priorities: easier access to health data through cross-border portability; personalised medicine via Big Data whether for prevention or treatment; integrated care via comprehensive health dashboard likely to foster home treatment and to drive costs down. Actions are taken on different fronts. Legislative steps are undertaken, whether on patients’ rights, medical devices or via more encompassing initiatives such as the GDPR or the NIS Directive. The European Commission is also making funds available to nurture groundbreaking initiatives as well as innovation closer to the ground. Finally, they are coordinating national policies to enhance their collective value for all Europeans.

    Healthcare falls under subsidiarity. Poor digital literacy in national Health departments slows down the pace of digitisation, more often seen as a disruptor than a catalyst. But a focus on containing the cost of public health paves the way for ICT to demonstrate what technology can do in this respect. Reimbursement puts government’s openness to the test: software-based solutions meant to empower patients may prove more effective than pills or even some medical acts, and yet in the EU regular reimbursement mechanism is the exception, not the rule.

    As if this burden was not complex enough, public institutions are not only keen to set the conditions for better healthcare but also to ensure Europe has the industrial capacity to deliver on this vision.

    Industry is being transformed

    The ICT industry is busy taking up the challenge of digitised, citizen-centric healthcare. The more upstream, the more deeply felt the benefits from Big Data: oncology is a case in point, with spectacular progress over the last few years. Rare diseases offer another bright spot. However, more downstream electronic health records have to comply with various legislations aimed to ensure the safety, integrity and security of the data transferred: the resulting picture is anything but a free flow.  

    Both the pharmaceutical and ICT industries believe that time has come for a harmonised approach if eHealth is to take off soon. Of course, those industries carry a different legacy, with the former being perceived as more heavily regulated, more critically dependent on data quality and thorough clinical trial processes. But they concur that they can learn from each other and come up with joint - hence eye-catching - suggestions to governments and regulators. This is at least what the eHealth ‘vertical’ at DIGITALEUROPE is trying to accomplish with the active help of new ICT-enabled members from the pharmaceutical or medical devices industries.

    People should care

    More and more people have come to realise that ICT acts as a game-changer on their health. Through wearables, for instance, individuals are empowered to take their health into their own hands. Just as patients taking responsibility is known to accelerate the healing process in most treatments, likewise citizens feeling responsible for their fitness will help achieve effective prevention, hence considerable cost reduction of public health.

    At a time when the ‘quantified self’ is all the rage, Europeans look particularly cautious when it comes to sharing health-related data. Daily reports on conspicuous hacking and leaks do not help build trust, but the younger generation seems to be ready for a slightly revisited tradeoff between quality of care and data protection.

    Even assuming that wearables will start the ball rolling in the right direction, the jury is still out on the ethical dimensions; those should be discussed with all stakeholders and not left to individual decisions.

    Against the background of ambitions proclaimed – including in the mid-term review of the DSM – and in light of progress made so far, it is worth joining forces in the last stretch to accelerate the completion of the DSM as regards to the digitisation of healthcare. This holds true not only on the industry side but also for governments: indeed appropriate legislation matters as much as flawless connectivity to share health data. With the added support of new members that have bet their business on ICT-enabled health, DIGITALEUROPE’s ‘Digital in Practice Programme’ will keep on listening to the principal stakeholders, which will hopefully include the voice of patients.

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