EU must welcome digital revolution in health

Michał Boni answers some of the most important questions surrounding the digital single market strategy for healthcare in Europe.

By Michal Boni

29 Sep 2015

Modern healthcare systems should be assessed based on the level of diseases they prevent rather than the numbers of patients they treat.

To better understand this we need to recognize that health prevention means intervening at an early stage, before an issue becomes a problem. New technologies can help accelerate this process. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Governments and policy makers should not wait for the 'magic formula' but rather actively support innovative initiatives and scale up those that work.

New technologies can revolutionise healthcare systems by providing new ways to process health data. This helps personalise medical services, improving their effectiveness.


There is a clear need for more efficient, patient-friendly and properly personalised medical services. Demand will drive change for both doctors and patients.

Driving the digital revolution in healthcare requires positive leadership and participation from all stakeholders. It will be a multi-step process, including public awareness campaigns, research and development, clinical trials and evaluation to prove effectiveness and guidelines for use.

The policy-making process rarely keeps pace with technological developments or public demand. Nowhere is this truer than in e-health, a sector where technology is evolving rapidly. We need this new framework, both legal and non-legal, to fully develop eHealth. 

This should not be overregulated; rather it should focus on establishing a flexible framework that allows legislation to keep pace with the technological developments.

Legislation means defining the required rules and standards. We need to ensure new technological achievements meet all necessary standards.

This does not necessarily demand 'strong legislation', instead it can be via proper certifications approved by legitimate authorities and adequate procedures present in codes of conduct. We need a flexible approach to legislation - as little as possible and as strong as is really necessary.

Manufacturers and app developers need clear demarcation between regulated medical devices/applications and those that are recreational/wellbeing.

We also need to consider the impact of wearable devices, which will incorporate health and fitness apps. It is one of the key challenges in the future development of mHealth.

So what are the conditions necessary to stimulate e-health? Firstly, we need to have the appropriate infrastructure in place, specifically high-speed internet that is accessible.

This would ensure the rapid exchange of data and information, allowing for real-time distance monitoring and treatment. 

We must also work to ensure that no section of society is excluded from digital services, while at the same time equipping all citizens, including the elderly, with the eSkills to fully benefit from digital health.

We must establish clear rules for data protection that are uniform across Europe, and - in the case of sensitive health data - around the world. 

This is not a legislative burden, it is essential for trust between patients, doctors and providers of medical services. In addition, because of its sensitivity, data should be encrypted when being held and when it is exchanged.

Standardising technological procedures is also necessary. Doctors' decisions need to be based on accurate, comparative data that provides both sides with a high degree of certainty over the chosen procedures; this is an important liability consideration.

Standardising technological must happen in accordance with leveraging new technologies for healthcare. The medical application of new technology has become a field of scientific research in its own right. 

The number of mobile applications available is continually expanding; on coaching, prevention, screening, diagnosis, monitoring, therapeutic education, adaptation of care and orientation toward treatments.

Connected devices are the latest innovation in this continuing revolution. The increasing miniaturisation of sensors and the widespread availability of smartphones have spurred the growth of these new tools, making it easier for individuals to monitor and share their healthcare data with medical professionals.

Understanding how e-health solutions work can help simplify the way that healthcare is organised. It can allow rapid access, modernise how clinics and hospitals work and make them truly patient-oriented. This will deliver better and more transparent accountability of service.

Communicating the key benefits of e-health can also help stimulate its growth and development. The expression "connected health" has come to designate a breakthrough that is both technological and social. Connected devices personalise users' care and can generate new insights. 

In this new paradigm, there is an increasing interest in healthy individuals, not only with the purpose of treating them, but also in helping to support them in managing their health needs better through continuous monitoring. This challenge is certainly worth embracing.



Tech & Research Health
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