As Europeans continue to live longer, the costs of health and social care will rise substantially to about 9% of EU GDP in 2050, by the European Commission’s reckonings. Luckily ICT will help to maintain cost efficient and high quality health and social care: the introduction of ICT and telemedicine alone is estimated to improve efficiency of health care by 20%. Beyond the benefits expected on our wellbeing, business perspectives look good too: the global telecare and telehealth market is forecast to grow from 7.6 to 17.6 billion Euros already by 2017.
In light of these numbers, the future of e-Health looks bright for everyone, individuals and business alike. Why is it then that its uptake is so slow in our region of the world?
Under the title ‘E-Health: life saver or just smoke and mirrors?’ DIGITALEUROPE ran another ‘Digital in Practice Programme’ workshop on 24 January 2017 with a view to answer this nagging question. Leading experts helped launch the conversation:
Head of Unit, eHealth, Well-being & Ageing, DG CNECT
Senior Manager, Public Affairs, Samsung / Chair, eHealth Working Group, DIGITALEUROPE
Senior Lecturer/Assistant Professor, Linköping University
Director at DIGITALEUROPE
The overall feeling is that opportunities vastly outweigh inevitable downsides that only call for appropriate remedies:
– personalized healthcare is the way to go to win over people, whether patients, doctors or those who want to stay in good health.
– the data explosion is a powerful help to this effect provided reasonable caution is exercised in keeping with appropriate frameworks.
– collaboration between the many stakeholders concerned is the name of the game.
– early results are seen at local level while national or EU policy makers keep on debating the merits of hard regulation vs soft law, thus providing evidence that a pragmatic approach based on Codes of conduct and guidelines is the most productive.
Among mission-critical ingredients:
– infrastructure matters to make the most of the outcome of Big Data. In this respect, 5G looks like a game-changer as speed is more often than not of the essence in the area of health.
– health being a people’s concern, you need people educated enough to make the most of the digital revolution. Medical digital literacy is a make or break input to affording all Europeans – healthy or suffering specific conditions – and all European doctors the benefits of digitally-enhanced healthcare. In this regard, the elderly population has to be upskilled fast if Europeans are to age smoothly and autonomously along the lines of what the Commission considers a priority.
The vision is clear at EU level. This holds true actually for most ICT-enabled sectors scrutinized by the DiPP so far: health just happens to be more complicated or sensitive. Another common feature displayed by digital transformation across the board is the critical role of the ‘old guard’: whether traditional banks, car manufacturers, farmers or doctors, you have to take them on board if you want Europe to sail smoothly through its digital transition.
Making all Member States pull their weight at the same pace proves to be the real challenge since the roots of the balance between protection and security, to take just one example, run deep into national cultures. Critical improvement is expected from the GDPR implementation in this respect. The Medical Devices Regulation also seems to point out that we may be starting to deliver on the triple win envisioned by the Commission: a better quality of life for European citizens; innovation and growth for a competitive EU industry; and more sustainable healthcare systems for society.
Cooperation with industry and users is instrumental to turn these dreams into new lifestyles and new markets. For instance, once industry has done its part of the job by embedding as much relevant data as possible in health apps and by signing up to a m-Health Code of conduct developed with other stakeholders, trust might still be the missing link. That’s where education comes into play: the Commission and national governments have potent levers to help on this front. Indeed, however much happy the industry is to co-develop apps with doctors, the patient-doctor relationship lies at the heart of a successful deployment of e-Health across Europe.
Turning to prevention, wearables are hard to match, but only as long as they are affordable and actionable enough to be seen as part of the solution to social wellbeing. This is not to say that they can’t help actual patients: they are great at continuing monitoring and they save money by tailoring the need for medication to how the condition of each and every patient develops over time. They also make predictive analysis possible, by tracking movements or location in the case or seizure or depression for instance.
Let’s not forget that the potential for abuse seems to grow along the wonders dangled before our eyes though: hacking, identity theft, data integrity, data trading on the Dark Net, etc. Our society’s health is at real risk of being compromised. Built-in solutions combining trust in brands properly supported by publicly recognized seals are bound to inspire confidence.
In a nutshell, we need:
– clear rules, intelligible ‘prescriptions for use’ of digital health devices
– a mix of mid-term agenda (education) and quick wins (wearables, revisiting the reimbursement of digital devices) to win over the hearts and minds of people.
DIGITALEUROPE wouldn’t fail in its time-honoured DiPP mission if it would organize a follow-up event, perhaps with a bigger agenda, building on the findings of ongoing academic research as displayed on the 24th of January.