It wasn’t so long ago that Time magazine declared advances in digital health mean we will “become immortal by 2045”. Fact or fiction, governments are committed to mHealth, because they believe digital processes will boost accessibility, affordability and offer new opportunities for remote patient monitoring and more.
A recent WHO report claims three-quarters of European countries already have eHealth policies in place, but finding these remains a challenge. Thirty of Europe’s 50 countries “report funding to develop and support telehealth programs as a significant barrier,” an EU report claims.
Despite the funding shortfall, European governments are developing interoperability, privacy and security standards for digital health. They are also prioritizing teleradiology (83%), remote patient monitoring (72%) and telepathological services (63%).
Remote patient monitoring and remote diagnosis are attractive to health authorities looking to deliver more support to an aging population while facing shortfalls in skills and finding. A Research 2 Guidance survey claims: “61% of respondents believe mHealth solutions can cut costs through therapy adherence, whilst 65% believe mHealth adoption could save costs by shortening or avoiding hospital visits.”
Electronic Health Records
Sweden is already Europe’s most advanced economy in terms of digital health. Not only has the country had 100 percent coverage of the Electronic Health Record since 2012, but 90 percent of prescriptions are now issued electronically there.
In the US initiatives are now taking place on a state-by-state basis where we’ve seen the green light given to remote monitoring of patients. Also in the US some of the biggest names in tech have begun work with key health research institutions such as the Mayo Clinic to gather evidence and identify good practice models for digital health policy and product development.
Governments recognize the need to digitize EHR systems effectively. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Burwell recently announced a new joint commitment from multiple health stakeholders to make patients data more accessible, including development of better interoperability standards -- essential when developing care and treatment plans across multiple providers and systems.
The need for interoperability is also driving partnerships transcending national boundaries. A great example of this is the EHR (Electronic Health Records) collaboration between the UK NHS and the US Department of Health and Human Services, which aims to create interoperability standards between both nations.
Governments are also moving to address the lack of regulatory and evidence based models around the sector. Consumers can't yet be certain the health benefits promised by some digital health solutions and apps are based on sound scientific/medical theory.
That’s going to remain a challenge. Even today 33 European member states, “do not have an entity that is responsible for the regulatory oversight of the quality, safety and reliability of mHealth applications."
Beyond regulation and interoperability, most governments are working with partners to explore the potential for remote patient monitoring; Orange Healthcare and France are developing such systems for use by patients suffering from chronic diseases.
There are signs public resistance to digital health treatments is melting. Accumulating evidence shows they are beginning to change their habits and most European countries say their populations will now go online for health advice. There may also be other opportunities to improve public health locked inside the digital value chain, for example recent groundbreaking research at Penn State University suggests social media posts may reveal useful and actionable data about personal health
That kind of research is also useful as the mHealth movement prepares itself for a future in which big data and artificial intelligence will play a part in medical analysis.
There are strong signals governments understand the value of this kind of analysis. Thirteen percent of Europe’s member states have regulatory policies in place to protect use of big data in the health sector, while 80 percent have laws to protect patient privacy in the age of EHRs. Which isn’t to say the laws that are being put in place are satisfactory to every technology firm with an interest in the sector.
Take a look at our Orange Healthcare business unit to find out much more about our involvement in the digital transformation of the sector.
Jon Evans is a highly experienced technology journalist and editor. He has been writing for a living since 1994. These days you might read his daily regular Computerworld AppleHolic and opinion columns. Jon is also technology editor for men's interest magazine, Calibre Quarterly, and news editor for MacFormat magazine, which is the biggest UK Mac title. He's really interested in the impact of technology on the creative spark at the heart of the human experience. In 2010 he won an American Society of Business Publication Editors (Azbee) Award for his work at Computerworld.