eHealth must benefit both doctors and patients
New technologies can help improve access to healthcare, however we must ensure no one is excluded, writes Martina Anderson.
I approached my work as shadow rapporteur on the European Commission' eHealth action plan 2012-2020 with both enthusiasm and care, and I engaged with numerous experts and organisations in this field in order to aid the development of the action plan.
Information and communication technologies (ICT) applied to health and healthcare systems can increase their efficiency, improve quality of life and unlock innovation in health markets.
However, this capacity remains largely unfulfilled. The EU should be insisting that member states undertake this process, while also helping them do so.
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Access to high quality healthcare is recognised to be a fundamental right. Yet health systems within the EU currently face major challenges.
These include the increased demand for health services arising from the ageing of the population, the impact of chronic diseases, the mobility of patients and healthcare professionals, heightened public expectations as regards the quality of healthcare and increasingly tight healthcare budgets.
eHealth covers the range of tools that can be used to assist and enhance prevention, diagnosis, treatment, monitoring and management concerning health and lifestyle. It is often perceived as being able to substantially increase productivity, and therefore as an instrument to support the reform of health systems.
However, while seeking the most efficient delivery of the highest standard of healthcare through mechanisms such as eTechnology, we must guard against it becoming a substitute for face-to-face contact between health professionals and patients.
These solutions must be developed in collaboration with and for the benefit of practitioners and health professionals, as well as enabling patients to manage their conditions better and to live healthier, more productive lives.
In order to achieve those objectives, healthcare service providers need to work with one another - beyond the areas for which they are responsible and linguistic boundaries - to provide high quality services focusing on patient safety.
In my home country, Ireland, we are developing a health innovation corridor in the northwest of the island. The corridor is a cross-border partnership between industry, multidisciplinary academia, health practitioners, statutory bodies and local and central government.
The vision for the corridor is that by 2020 the northwest of Ireland would be internationally recognised as a health and social science research and innovation zone, driving the regional economy and addressing health inequalities through applying integrated healthcare solutions based on innovations, particularly in technology.
Additionally, the current economic crisis is affecting our citizens, by driving down incomes and reducing employment opportunities, driving up costs and exacerbating levels of personal debt, lowering our quality of life and causing an overall negative impact on health. But it is clear that new technologies can present opportunities to both individuals and health systems alike.
We should ensure that patients are empowered by any new technology, rather than excluded. Accessibility is key and this is especially relevant for older people who may find the technologies more complicated to use than younger people who have had more experience.
It is also important to ensure that any savings made in healthcare systems through the use of eHealth technology should be reinvested into improved healthcare provision and not hived off into other areas of government expenditure. Health is a value in itself and health expenditure is recognised as growth-friendly.
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