Why is eHealth important?
This area began with telehealth – using phone lines to connect and transfer images between care professionals in order to improve the efficiency and quality of the care process. Today this area has evolved into eHealth. It encompasses all the information and communication technologies that can be used to improve the overall delivery of healthcare services – from software applications and the cloud to data analytics and artificial intelligence.
There are several major trends that are shaping the future of the health technology we develop. I can speak to these trends from my personal experience working as a Philips healthcare consultant in the Nordic countries. Today we have far more elderly patients with chronic conditions and far fewer younger people to take care of them. Our hospitals have to serve more patients who are sicker which raises our healthcare costs. Hospitals also have fewer financial and operational resources to draw upon. At the same time, patients are more engaged in their own health and well-being. They are comfortable using smartphones, tablets and other digital technologies. So we need to find new ways of delivering care. New digital solutions and technologies that are becoming available can help here.
Barriers to incorporating eHealth in healthcare systems
There is a strong drive to incorporate eHealth to improve the delivery of care, but hospitals still have many challenges to overcome. In our eHealth projects, we frequently encounter the same barriers:
- Adding new technology on top of the current way of working
Imagine you have set up a tele-consult service to improve efficiency for physicians and patients. Instead of in-person consultations, physicians do a 20-minute Skype call with patients. This saves travel time for patients, but the physician still has to spend 20 minutes on a call, so it hasn’t made their work any more efficient.
- Reimbursement issues
We often see that there is no financial incentive for healthcare systems to change and use technology in a meaningful way, which can block eHealth initiatives. In the Nordics, for example, the specialist care is owned by one entity (the hospital), but once the patient leaves the hospital they enter the municipality that has another budget. So the system as a whole would benefit from the investment in eHealth, but the municipalities do not want to pay for that. They save money when the patient is in the hospital.
- Patient privacy
Many solutions are cloud based and local legislation often requires that patient information be stored within the borders of the respective country, or even within the walls of a hospital, meaning your eHealth solution may not be able to leverage economies of scale.
- Complete medical record
Another big challenge is having a complete view of the patient’s medical record since this can be spread over different care settings that are not organized to exchange information with each other. At Philips we offer interoperability solutions that aim to streamline clinical workflows by enabling smooth data exchange within hospital enterprises and across multiple hospital networks.