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News & Press: News

Why digital services will make health services better and citizens’ lives safer

10 October 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Heather Smith
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Two people in a room

Making healthcare more digital for European citizens, quickly, is a moral, legal and economic obligation.

Written by Ain Aaviksoo the Deputy Secretary General for E-services and Innovation at the Ministry of Social Affairs

My short answer would be because we can, and because we owe this to our people. It seems like a no-brainer that timely and thorough analysis, based on the most complete dataset possible, gives you the best base for accurate decisions. In healthcare, the right decisions are the key determinants of less harmful and more effective services. Thus, in an age when the majority of hospitals and primary care providers in Europe capture and store data about their activities in a digital format, one cannot come to any other conclusion than that putting this information to work for the benefit of citizens in a digital format is a life-saving mission. 

As such it seems like a moral obligation. 

The Treaty establishing the European Community makes the case that any harmonisation in Europe should "[guarantee] a high level of protection of human health … taking account in particular of any new development based on scientific facts …” Well, the directive on the application of patients’ rights in cross-border healthcare also says that all member states shall ensure that "healthcare providers provide relevant information to help individual patients to make an informed choice, including on treatment options, on the availability, quality and safety of the healthcare they provide." To do this, you must make all medical information available in a machine-readable format, because only then can citizens fully execute their right to make an informed decision. It is hard to see any good justification for not enabling citizens and patients to receive all the information they want. And yes, each member state should decide how to provide this access and preferably collaborate on the best practices and relevant standards to optimise the costs and speed up the implementation of relevant solutions. 

In any case it seems like a legal obligation, too. 

And there seems to be a case even for those who act upon more rational arguments rather than morale or law. The digital single market broadly addresses the barriers to scaling up the potential in digital health and connected care, such as the dominance of data silos, the lack of interoperability, as well as fragmented markets across the EU and across the spectrum of services, there is a need to implement a comprehensive set of actions building on the principles and opportunities offered by the digital single market. There's ample evidence that if we do not make an appropriate use of digital technologies it will cost us significantly – European healthcare systems cannot beat their sustainability problems alone, smarter targeting – using data analytics at individual or system levels – could help; access to care and citizen engagement would be unreachable without intelligent care management of care flows and actors' empowerment from data and decision support tools; and without proper data analytics the quality management of healthcare services is plain nonsense. If that is still not enough then I would argue that we cannot leave European citizens without new innovative services and products that our friends in the USA, China and elsewhere are developing with record speed and enthusiasm. We should nurture data economy companies in Europe, so that better services don’t reach our citizens later and more expensively while economic gains and growth remain overseas. 

Hence, there is also an economic obligation. 

Gratefully and not surprisingly a great majority of health ministries from EU member states have vocally supported the adoption of the Council conclusions on Health in the Digital Society to make progress in data-driven innovation in health, with a clear call for bold actions in the area. A similar call to action has been expressed by more than 100 stakeholders in an organisation gathered under the Digital Health Society initiative aimed at tangible commitments to implementing digital health on the European scale. Thus, the plan of the European Commission to second this high demand for action by a communication as well as suggestions for serious actions, nicely add to the momentum that allows me to believe that we can make the future of European citizens significantly more enjoyable, because it is our obligation. 

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