With new ‘Apps’ coming to market every day, we can now monitor how much we eat, how we exercise and how much we sleep. With such information available at our finger tips, new possibilities for prevention and early diagnosis have emerged and can help individuals help themselves which can in turn serve to counter the growing tide of chronic diseases.
The digital revolution is also changing the way people engage with their health care providers with doctors offering patients online consultations via Skype and prescribing Apps the way they once prescribed pills.
At the same time, the pharma industry is riding the digital wave by working with the likes of Google and Apple to deliver services beyond the pill – to improve health outcomes for patients.
So what are the barriers to unlock the potential of digital health?
Crucially, people should have the confidence that the data they provide is secure and be able to opt out of sharing their data. Whilst society continues to benefit from this digital revolution, regulators must ensure that the security of people’s private information is safeguarded and work to achieve a balance between capitalising on the digital innovation whilst maintaining data protection.
Changing the mentalities and reluctance of healthcare providers and insurance companies to embrace the data revolution will also require a paradigm shift which can only be addressed through training and education.
Another challenge is interoperability. EHealth tools and services can be a catalyst to uptake what digital health has to offer but fundamentally need to be interconnected in order to be fully efficient. An illustration of this is with the flagship EU legislation on cross border healthcare, which ‘in principle’ allows patients to access treatment in another EU country, and be reimbursed for it. The EU Health Commissioner has rightly explained how important it will be for the healthcare systems to speak the same language, share patient records, and exchange e- prescriptions or provide e-consultations for patients to really benefit from their rights in cross border healthcare.
Naturally, all these changes come at a cost and governments need to chip in and invest in the research and development of e-health as well as fully integrate it in their healthcare strategies. But rest assured, the benefits of digital should be greater than the barriers with digital health having the potential to reduce healthcare costs and deliver more efficient, productive and personalised services.
Industry is quick to point this out with GSMA, the world mobile association, predicting that mhealth could reduce healthcare costs across the EU by €100bn by 2017 and even add €93bn in GDP. The tech industry further argues that if patients are given the tools to monitor their health, hospital re-admittance drops by up to 25; this in turn should allow healthcare providers to be more efficient with their time and thus would lower health care costs.
So are we ready to reap the benefits of digital health? There is some way to go, but the world is moving in that direction.