On e-health and medical technology: grasp the nettle or pay a high price?

  • Posted on 06.04.2011

On e-health and medical technology: grasp the nettle or pay a high price?


John Wilkinson

Former Chief Executive of Eucomed


Chairing a two day conference on e-health and presenting at a groundbreaking Innovation in Healthcare conference put on by DG Research has further fuelled my enthusiasm for telling the story about the power of technology to enable massive changes to the way that populations are cared for, whilst simultaneously improving outcomes, the patient experience and cost. If all this seems too good to be true just look at what the alternatives might be. Can we afford to employ or even find the million extra doctors that will be needed across Europe by 2020? Can we keep building hospitals now that we have reduced hospital stay times by 50% and demographic demand is pushing needs up again? No, we must push forward and use the crisis as a catalyst for change.

Online booking of appointments and provision of information to both patients and clinicians can reduce no-shows and ensure that diagnostic information is where it should be for the consultation whilst reducing re-testing. Monitoring patients with heart disease from the pacemaker or defibrillator implanted in their chest can be done wirelessly and continuously so that patients are only called to see a clinician when there is a need for that to take place and before any catastrophic event puts them in an emergency unit. Quick testing of patient admissions for MRSA and other healthcare acquired infections stops them from being repeatedly reintroduced to the hospital environment and infecting other patients. All of these benefit the patient by reducing the chance of mistakes or adverse events whilst avoiding the huge and often uncaptured costs associated with dealing with these errors and avoidable acute episodes of care.

The combination of ICT and medical technologies provides an infinite set of possible tools for redesigning the whole approach to patient care and this will be essential if Europe is to reconcile the needs and expectations of an exploding patient population with the preparedness of the tax payer to fund healthcare. The economic crisis has seen widespread austerity measures targeted at cutting the cost of doing healthcare the way we did it yesterday. This is doomed to failure because we need transformational change and the only way to achieve that is by embracing the opportunities offered by existing and new technologies and valuing these tools as the key that opens the door to more efficient and effective healthcare. With the investment world looking on, Europe must grasp this opportunity and attract capital to fuel innovation or condemn European citizens to substandard healthcare at increasingly crippling cost. Investment will follow eager innovative customers and steer a wide course around conservative promoters of inertia and established vested interests.

This is why raising the level of debate is critical to Europe, its citizens and its economy. Vibrant innovation in healthcare systems will fuel an explosion of enterprises which will continue to deliver high quality jobs and trade opportunities, whilst addressing the needs of citizens, patients and healthcare systems.

John Wilkinson, Chief Executive, Eucomed

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