Improving patient safety and embracing technology
Canvassing for innovative mobile solutions in disease management and improving patient safety, MEP Piernicola Pedicini, Member of EP’s Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety explores measures that could potentially boost the uptake of eHealth and provides an overview of European healthcare priorities
Would you ever want to find that you had a terminal prostate cancer through a smartphone application? Most certainly not. Technology will never replace doctors, but they must embrace it. In fact, telemedicine integrated with healthcare at home would contribute towards the rationalisation of costs and increase the humanisation of care. A patient-centred approach is essential in health treatments, however, unfortunately, sometimes such an approach is not given the right priority. It is essential to promote the humanisation of treatments, for instance, providing home-care medical treatments, which can help patients psychologically and result in better healthcare performance.
eHealth and mobile health have a great potential in increasing the efficiency of healthcare treatments and reducing costs. I welcome the identification by the Commission of eHealth as a priority area of activity in the Digital Single Market strategy.
eHealth can contribute to the empowerment of patients with key information, making them able to take informed decisions. However, we should make sure that patients and their organisations are actively involved in healthcare treatment decision-making as they have a pivotal role in the uptake of eHealth.
Other measures that could potentially boost the uptake of eHealth in Europe include establishing online and publicly available patient waiting lists; establishing information points where medical examinations can be booked online; setting audio-visual telecommunications healthcare consultation where the doctor can visit the patient from the institute; guaranteeing free data access to enhance de-hospitalisation, and finally providing home care treatment and telemedicine, which would improve the quality of the treatment and also reduce costs.
Pedicini’s initiative report
I was rapporteur of the initiative report on “Safer healthcare in Europe: improving patient safety and fighting antimicrobial resistance,” adopted by a large majority of the European Parliament in May 2015. In the report, we identified some key actions which the various member states and the European Commission should take as a matter of urgency in order to increase patient safety and reduce antimicrobial resistance.
There is also a need to adopt a patient-centred approach as well as a multidisciplinary strategy when doctors decide on best medical treatments.
The indiscriminate application of austerity measures, that some member states have applied to the health sector, have a negative impact on patient safety, for example the reduction of medical personnel or of hygiene specialists increases the patient’s risk in getting associated infections. This eventually results in higher expenses for the healthcare sector.
The upstream cause of threat to patient safety is the political interference in appointment of managers and other health professionals, which implies lower healthcare quality standards. That is the primary reason why the report stresses that member states should “ensure that health managers are appointed on the basis of their merit and not of political affiliation.”
Nowadays we are facing a major threat to human healthcare which is antimicrobial resistance. Every year 25,000 European citizens die due to increased resistance to antimicrobial agents and, in 2050, the deaths caused by antibiotic resistance is estimated to be about 10 million: more than the number of deaths caused by cancer.
Urgent measures are needed, particularly from the pharmaceutical industry in “real development” of new antimicrobial drugs and, at the same time, to research alternative natural methods to fight drug resistance. Furthermore, we need more appropriate microbiological diagnosis before prescribing any antibiotics; prohibition of sales without prescription; awareness-raising campaigns targeting all population groups to promote an appropriate and responsible use of antibiotics; limit the use of antibiotics in veterinary medicine; eliminating the prophylactic use, as well as strongly restrict the metaphylactic use of antibiotics in animals.
Innovative healthcare method to detect prostate cancer
The EU health policy should address not only traditional research but also look at innovative healthcare methods which could have an important impact on reducing healthcare costs.
For instance, a study published last April on the Journal of Urology showed an alternative method to detect prostate cancer. It showed that a trained canine olfactory system can detect prostate cancer specific volatile organic compounds in urine samples with high estimated sensitivity and specificity.
This study can lead to the development of a highly innovative procedure to identify prostate cancer with a highest predictive value compared to traditional methodologies, which have shown scarce specificity and sensitivity. The discovery is particularly relevant considering that prostate cancer represents the fifth most frequent cancer in the world and given the increasing mortality rates within Europe.