The International Centre for Parliamentary Studies together with the European Centre for Public Policy organised the E-Health: A New Holistic Healthcare Plan for Europe event which brought together various health stakeholders to determine how eHealth and can be better integrated into the health care systems of today. Panelists from all health sectors agreed that in order to take advantage of the technologies that currently exist and to further encourage innovation, a major shift in thinking needs to occur with regards to how patients, professionals and governments view the delivery of health care. Participants discussed many of the challenges to the uptake of eHealth, but solutions were not as numerous. As John Wilkinson, C.E.O. of EUCOMED proclaimed in his closing statements as Chairman of the conference, “We have digital technologies operating in analog systems.”
The two-day conference began by discussing how Europe’s infrastructure can be transformed to support the eHealth technologies that already exist. All panelists acknowledged that one of the main barriers to a supportive infrastructure for eHealth remains the funding and reimbursement systems established throughout the Member States. Jennifer Bremner, Director of the European Health Management Association, highlighted the need to invest in the whole health care system rather than just pilots and projects which includes creating financial incentives for hospitals to integrate eHealth solutions. Ms. Bremner cited the fact that technologies which reduce hospital visits are rejected by hospitals because the overall outcome of less patient visits inevitably equals less revenue for the hospitals. However, she also cited the potential of eHealth to increase patient safety and quality of care and to change the dynamic between patients and health care professionals.
Providing a medical professional perspective on eHealth, Dr. Vicenzo Costigliola of the European Medical Association, followed Ms. Bremner and suggested that doctors see eHealth as a way to provide better service to patients, who today are more informed, more motivated and demand more in terms of medical performance. He declared patients are now of the notion, “Nothing about me, without me” which empowers people not only in their roles as patients, but also as consumers. From the point of view of a consumer, the over-arching problem with eHealth is that it “remains a disruptive technology” as Mr. Michael Wilks of the eHealth Users’ Stakeholders Group pointed out.
Speaking on the final day of the conference, Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner Mr. John Dalli clearly emphasized the intention of the European Commission to facilitate the uptake of eHealth technologies so that health systems can deliver better care to more people. He maintained that the European Innovation Pilot on Healthy and Active Ageing will be run with an “entrepreneurial spirit – not bureaucratic” with the goal of bringing together stakeholders who will determine how best to roll out the technologies already generated and broaden the acceptance of those technologies.
The panelists following Commissioner Dalli presented many of the ways in which eHealth technologies have the potential to improve the patient experience. Mr. Herbert Riband, Medtronic Vice-President of External Affairs, shared with participants the “Carelink” remote cardiac device made by Medtronic which allows for remote follow-ups with cardiac patients rather than face-to-face visits. The technology is currently being used by 600,000 people in 31 countries and can reduce office visits by 38%, reduce the time from medical event to clinical decision by 79% and reduce cost by 40%. However, in most health care systems, face-to-face visits are paid for, whereas remote follow-ups are not, preventing many people from utilising a technology which would allow for increased active and healthy living.
Also in the business of providing eHealth technologies, Ms. Petra Wilson, Secretary General of the Continua Health Alliance, focused her remarks on the overall theme of the conference – change in the way health care is perceived. She argued that we can no longer derive health policy from the perspective that we are “accidentally well” and the idea that we do not have to do anything special to be well. Instead, she demanded that rather than collecting data only on the ill, we must begin collecting data on those who are “pre-ill” or “well” in order to begin establishing policy from a preventative perspective. Ms. Wilson considered that eHealth and remote devices are the mechanism through which further data can be collected about the population and better policy can be achieved.
Though the opportunities afforded by eHealth were sometimes overshadowed by the many challenges posed by eHealth during the event, the conference closed by reminding participants of the promise eHealth still has for all of us. John Wilkinson closed by offering that all stakeholders have a chance to gain through eHealth – patients through quality of care; clinicians through more effective and efficient treatment; research through collection of data by remote devices; and health systems through the better management of health.