When health and technology go hand in hand, safe, efficient and cost-effective solutions are often the result. Realising the immense potential that these two fields possess if they are well attuned to one another, the Commission is focussing a lot of its attention on eHealth and the benefits that these exciting technologies can bring. But not only the Commission is showing increased interest – people are talking about it, thinking about it or working with eHealth technologies.
I’m one of those strongly advocating the use of IT in healthcare because I believe that eHealth will prove to be an excellent means towards true sustainable healthcare. And it is this kind of healthcare that we will need more and more in the future, if we want to increase patient safety and develop even better, more innovative solutions for Europe’s citizens.
It is important to remember that eHealth is not a product or a service as such, but rather an “enabler”, to be used in combination with other solutions to facilitate or improve treatment, empower patients to manage their own health and allow for healthcare budgets to be used more efficiently while ensuring quality and safety. One example that springs to mind is that of the Zuiderzee Medical Centre in Lelystad, The Netherlands, which has implemented the first “tele-intensive care” unit (Tele-IC) in Europe. Concretely, a number of beds are equipped with technology which allows doctors in the Onze Lieve Vrouw Gasthuis in Amsterdam to instruct nurses in the Lelystad hospital when intensive care doctors are not immediately available. Research in the US in 2009 has shown that this type of eHealth not only reduces the period between an adverse event and the moment of treatment, but also lowers costs for healthcare budgets.
The above example nicely illustrates how IT-systems can and are helping nurses and doctors to provide better care for their patients. But this is only the beginning! In the coming years we will witness a true transformation of Europe’s healthcare systems and we will be better placed to gauge the impact of the benefits that eHealth is bringing to the table. A number of those benefits are already obvious today, particularly for the patient. Through eHealth we can create an environment for patients where healthcare is performed in a way that first and foremost meets their requirements and needs rather than those of the healthcare service provider. In short, eHealth can allow patients to be treated in the comfort of their own home, surrounded by familiar faces and receiving the safest and most efficient care, something which was not possible only a decade ago. This is particularly beneficial for people living in more rural areas of Europe who would otherwise have to undertake time consuming journeys to the nearest hospital.
It is clear that this evolution looks very promising and tempting, but we need to make sure that these promises and all this potential is backed by a policy environment which stimulates the development, diffusion and uptake of eHealth solutions. I am convinced that we can make this work if policy-makers, healthcare providers and the medtech industry work closely together to build solid IT-solutions, backed by the appropriate infrastructure to bring these benefits for both patients and healthcare systems to fruition. Without this close cooperation, the advantages of eHealth may turn out to be rather limited and fail to live up to their expectations.
As an enabler, eHealth has the capacity to create a number of new opportunities by contributing to safer, smarter and ever more efficient healthcare to more people in Europe. In a time of budgetary constraints, we, in Europe, really cannot afford to let these opportunities pass us by!
– Anna Lefevre Skjöldebrand, Chair Eucomed eHealth Working Group