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European healthcare needs a dose of technology

By Emily Stott (@MillieStott), Telefonica millennial leader, UK

Health TechTechnology has the power to transform industries and improve lives, and nowhere is the potential for transformation greater than in our health systems.

Healthcare places an ever-increasing strain on national resources and is one of the biggest public expenditures in developed countries. On average, total healthcare spending in OECD countries represented about 9.5% of GDP in 2010, up from 5% in 1970 and 7% in 1990. This is partly due to the ever shifting demographic in developed countries, with a rapidly ageing population and therefore an increase in the number of chronic diseases. Currently in the US, chronic diseases account for $3 of every $4 spent on healthcare. In the UK, they account for around 50% of GP appointments.

Technology, particularly remote monitorization and mhealth, holds the solution to many of these problems. It enables us to:

  • Save time by enabling remote monitoring of the elderly and chronic disease patients
  • Save money by reducing the need for costly appointments and visits to hospitals
  • Be more efficient and reliable, with reduced medical errors and improved patient safety

It’s therefore no surprise that there are a plethora of ehealth apps, tools and services now available, and the global market for health ICT products and services is estimated at US$96billion and growing. In fact, e-health is considered as one of the six most promising lead markets of the EU.

Considering the power of technology to save time, money and make us more efficient, the mhealth statistics in the recent Global Millenial Survey (GMS) are shocking. Millennials were asked how personal mobile technology had transformed areas of their life. In Western Europe, only 14% of millennials believed that mobile technology had had a significant impact on healthcare and medicine. This was significantly lower than all other regions, notably South America (28%), Central America (36%) and Mexico (30%).

Why such a gulf?

The GMS figures for Western Europe highlight the fact that there is a huge gulf between what is possible and where we are now. Even Simon Stevens, chief exec of the NHS, admits that ‘progress has not been as fast as it should have been’.

In the case of the NHS, this has been attributed to a variety of reasons. Stevens explains that the primary reason has been inconsistency, with the NHS oscillating between two opposite approaches to information technology adoption.

More generally, Western European healthcare systems have been slow to react to technological advances. They are largely more established than their Latin American counterparts, meaning they are based on structures that are decades old; they were designed far before we could imagine mobile phones, let alone their integration into our healthcare. In contrast, developing economies have the chance to integrate technology into the foundations of their healthcare systems as they grow – to make mobile phones and remote monitorization the building blocks of efficient and accessible healthcare.

One example of this change is the impressive initiative of New Cities Foundation in Rio de Janeiro, where doctors and nurses at a clinic were equipped with an eHealth backpack to make home visits to elderly patients. The kits, which contained a variety of portable health monitors, are estimated to save the clinic up to $200,000 per 100 patients. They have also increased efficiency: on average there is a 15-day delay to get blood exam results, but with this initiative results were available in 180 seconds.

Developed countries need to join the revolution

It’s fantastic that developing countries are capitalising on the incredible power of technology to revolutionise their healthcare, reaching previously inaccessible swathes of rural populations and addressing acute access issues. It’s imperative that developed countries remove their blinkers so they don’t get left behind. In line with the GMS mhealth rankings, PwC’s Innovation Scorecard projects a decline in technological healthcare innovation leadership for the US and UK, whereas Brazil will accelerate rapidly over the next 10 years.

Developed countries must join this healthcare revolution. There is no one-size fits all solution in doing so, but there are some major shifts that need to occur. We must incorporate new technologies into the public sector, not just private healthcare. We need a shift in vision to think long-term, not short-term: to view imminent costly investments as money saving initiatives. We also need to educate the public, obtaining their support: raising awareness of the benefits mhealth can bring; promoting trust in digital services, particularly among the elderly; and making mhealth the ‘new norm’. Ultimately, transformation requires a change in mindset and culture.

Baby steps

Of course, there have been some technological advances in Western Europe. Take the initiative of the Spanish Federation of Anti-Coagulant Associations, which has released an app to manage the dosage of medications and plan medical check-ups. Or alternatively take Cheshire East council, which has recently developed an electronic platform so that elderly people no longer have a succession of home visits to arrange care. Instead, their details can be taken once and shared using an app on a tablet or iPhone, avoiding duplicate visits and making the care and safety process more efficient. With this project, Cheshire East estimates a 20% saving in staff time and costs.

These are small examples, but they represent a step in the right direction. We need to continue on this path but act on a much larger scale, truly modernising Western European healthcare systems. If we don’t, our systems will become unsustainable. If we do, we will have the chance to save time, money and, ultimately, lives.

Sources:

  • http://mobihealthnews.com/22654/brazil-an-up-and-coming-mobile-health-market/
  • http://www.bj-hc.co.uk/bjhc-news/news-detail.html?news=2868&lang=en&feed=130
  • http://www.policymed.com/2011/01/pwc-medical-technology-innovation-scorecard-us-falling-behind-in-the-race-for-global-leadership.html#sthash.HvtYwA0R.dpuf\
  • http://www.england.nhs.uk/2013/11/15/new-tech-imprv-hlt-serv/
  • http://www.healthitoutcomes.com/doc/mhealth-app-service-market-set-to-explode-0001