‘Never knowingly under sold’ is a slogan that one major UK retailer has been using more or less continuously since 1925. I have never quite understood what it means. E-heath and telemedicine have been touted as the key to disruptive change in healthcare for a very long time. I recall spending an entertaining four days in sunny Fort Lauderdale in 2002 attending the American Telemedicine Association’s annual jamboree. A casual observer would believe that telemedicine would have an almost immediate transformational impact on the structure and efficiency of healthcare systems the world over. Eight years later we are barely a step further forward although there are some indications of a tipping point being close. Yesterday Cambridge Consultants produced a survey report which certainly indicated that minds are more set on the prospect that telemedicine will indeed be transformational in the coming years.
This coincides with Commissioner Dalli’s views that e-health will be central to the agenda of DG SANCO over the next few years and, in concert with DG Information Society and DG Research, there is likely to be a substantial policy focus targeting transformation from theory into practice in this area. A plethora of conferences and seminars, driven by the major ICT companies, adds further to the sense that forces are gathering and pushing broadly in the same direction.
That said, we have been here before. The ‘hype’ is expressed in very general terms and we need to see very practical examples of how telemedicine can transform both quality and productivity of health systems. Our sector has been, is and will continue to be a rich supplier of innovations which transform the way that care can be delivered but adoption is often glacially slow. This is because vested interests, medical conservatism, fear of change and a host of reimbursement and payment systems effectively place health systems in a straight jacket. Change management and a willingness to actively and radically reform the way that care is delivered will be critical if the potential of telemedicine is to be a driver of sustainable, high quality care for our citizens.
Is telemedicine still in the ‘oversold’ phase or is it now beginning to be imbedded in a real way in the minds of those who bring about health reform? The forces of conservatism and inertia will need to be overcome if innovation in this area is not to suffer the fate of innovation in medical technology which can be characterised as long, slow and reluctant, even in the face of overwhelming and compelling evidence of value. It gets there in the end but it may not be as quick and easy as many think.
– John Wilkinson, Chief Executive Eucomed