It is said that eHealth will make access to health services and the delivery of healthcare better for everyone – healthcare professionals, payers and patients. So what is eHealth and why should we integrate it into the world’s healthcare systems? These were some of the questions raised at the recent EU eHealth Week 2015. Firstly, the question ‘what does eHealth mean exactly’ is not one that is easily answered as it covers a vast array of digital technologies. Here are a couple of definitions that may help us.
The European Commission defines eHealth as follows:
“…the use of modern information and communication technologies to meet needs of citizens, patients, healthcare professionals, healthcare providers, as well as policy makers.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines eHealth as follows:
…the cost-effective and secure use of information and communication technologies in support of the health and health-related fields including healthcare, health surveillance and health education, knowledge and research.”
eHealth includes some of the things we are all very familiar with, such as e-prescribing and the touch screen appointment systems that greet us when we book in to see our GP. It also covers a plethora of ‘digital things’ including; health information technology systems, consumer health data, big data systems, telemedicine, computer assisted diagnostics and imaging, health monitoring solutions, supply chain management, health information websites, mobile health apps and electronic medical records.
Enthusiasm for eHealth has never been so high. This was clearly evident in the conferences and meetings held at the EU’s eHealth week 2015 hosted in Latvia. There was unanimous agreement that modernisation and digitalisation of healthcare systems across Europe will deliver key benefits to services which are being increasingly pressurised by an ageing and unhealthy population. These benefits include increased capacity, increased productivity and service and cost efficiencies. Overall it means better and more tailored healthcare that is closer to the needs of the patient.
So what did the EU’s eHealth Week identify as being some of the biggest challenges faced when integrating eHealth into our current systems? Here are the top seven spelt out:
1. Ensuring data security and data protection was highlighted as the biggest challenge. Patients and healthcare professionals alike need to feel one hundred per cent confident about the confidentiality of digital health systems.
2. Healthy investment. It was revealed that EU Governments and private healthcare providers are forecasted to invest a staggering €12.7 billion by the year 2018 into eHealth systems. The returns are predicted to be even greater.
3. Engaging and training doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals, in the new technologies are essential. As well as creating a digitally savvy workforce, patient populations have to be educated to ensure that the potential of efficient healthcare systems are maximised.
4. Apps for healthcare, of which there are more than 100,000 now available, need to be better absorbed into healthcare systems. They also need to be rationalised, standardised and simplified to aid value and usability.
5. Looking for and recruiting new IT talent. The NHS has already started a major digital health recruiting drive – https://digitalhealth.blog.gov.uk/2015/03/25/we-do-health-come-join-us/
6. Together! By pooling knowledge and resources across surgeries, hospitals and countries integrated eHealth systems can be developed faster and for the good of all. Tweets revealed that delegates at the EU eHealth Week were keen advocates of ‘sharing best practice.’
7. Healthcare professionals and a patient-centric imperative have to be at the centre of all digital innovation.
Hanson Zandi is at the forefront of eHealth innovation. The EU eHealth Week 2015 provided the inspiration for a new digital market access tool, which will be launched this summer. We also focus on the creation and implementation of digital apps that engage, educate and support both patients and healthcare professionals. Our enthusiasm is driven by 30 years of creative healthcare communications. Our raison d’être is our clients and the patients they reach out to.