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eHealth Has The Potential To Provide Better And Safer Healthcare

Submitted by on 04 May 2011 – 17:15

John DallieHealth has the potential to provide better and safer healthcare, to more people, in an efficient manner, in the long term.

eHealth is a tool to provide better healthcare to our patients. Using eHealth can improve prevention and diagnosis of diseases and improve patients’ lives in many ways. eHealth can translate into better and more patient-centred treatment, safer care, fewer visits to hospital, accurate monitoring, more autonomy.

There is no end to the needs and expectations of patients, especially as our populations continue to grow older.  It is our duty to provide high quality care, to more people, to meet the needs and expectations of our citizens.

So how do we deliver better healthcare, to more people, with fewer health professionals and limited resources?  Responsible innovation in health – in particular eHealth – is the answer.  eHealth has a great potential to maximise efficiency, reduce inequalities and save costs. As such, it has a central role to play in helping Europe to deliver high quality and sustainable health services now and for generations to come.

 

Telemedicine, for example,  can improve access to diagnosis and treatment – particularly for rare conditions where expertise is scarce. By concentrating expertise in a few centres connected to the whole of Europe, it is possible to move the knowledge without moving the patient. This, in turn, can translate into better access for patients, and greater cost–effectiveness for health systems.

For this reason, the European Union is supporting a European Reference Network which would offer high-quality and highly specialised expertise across Europe. This would help patients with a medical condition requiring a particular concentration of expertise in areas where medical expertise or technology is rare.

Furthermore, eHealth applications can facilitate access for patients to the best medical expertise from the comfort of their own home, while having their condition continuously monitored from a distance.

As the population grows older, the burden of chronic conditions will grow too.  Conditions such as heart disease or diabetes already account for around 70% of healthcare costs. By moving some routine checks from hospital to home, telemonitoring can help reduce hospital admissions and thus free up health resources, and, at the same time, improve patient’s comfort and control over their health.

Yet there remain a number of barriers to the use of eHealth across the EU.

One reason is that using eHealth requires a change of the mind set.  A revolution in healthcare as we know it.

eHealth requires a change in work practice, less need for face to face inter-action, more remote data driven action. This is a challenge for healthcare professionals – who have to learn the new tools, processes and opportunities, as well as for patients – who may not feel comfortable being advised by a doctor online. This is why we need to showcase the benefits of eHealth; and to shape its tools together with health professionals and civil society.

There are also structural barriers, in particular the lack of interoperability or compatibility between health systems. In other words, health systems in the European Union are unable to “speak” to one another.

To help bridge these gaps, an EU Directive has recently been adopted on patients’ rights in cross-border healthcare which clarifies the right for patients to be treated or diagnosed in another EU Member State – and be reimbursed for it.

This Directive also encourages national authorities to work together on eHealth to agree on a minimum set of data for patients’ summaries which can be shared between health professionals. The Directive further porposes to pool the collection of data on public health and medical research, notably through patients’ registries, which remain fragmented across Europe.

By promoting patients’ registries, we can support research on diseases and treatments and, ultimately, improve our understating on how to treat a given disease. Such co-operation will help us to learn from one another and break down the legal and practical barriers to interoperability.

The European Union has invested over a billion euros in research and pilot projects to develop eHealth tools to treat people, and also to keep  people healthy, active and independent. It is important to show how such investment can trigger efficiency gains that help secure the quality and sustainability of health systems. We need to ensure that investment pays off – not just today, but in 10, 20, 30 years time.

This is where health technology assessment can help ensure that eHealth technologies are chosen and used in the most effective and efficient way. This means showing that eHealth can be more effective than conventional treatment; and that the benefits outweigh the costs.

As part of the Europe 2020 Strategy, we are working with a wide range of public and private stakeholders within the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing to explore ways of using innovation to improve the quality of life of our ageing population.

Through this partnership, we hope that another 2 years can be added to the number of years that Europeans can live active and healthy lives. If successful, we will be rewarded threefold with better health and quality of life, more efficient and sustainable health systems, and stronger EU competitiveness and growth.

Innovation in Health – in particular eHealth – can make a difference to our citizens’ health for generation to come. The time has come to move from words to action to serve patients better and to drive forward the economy on which we all depend.