Social Europe and Well-Being

Coalition for Health, Ethics and Society (CHES)

Active and healthy ageing - with ICT?

16 October 2012

“If Europe continues to develop and make good use of ICT, it’ll be better off economically, happier and healthier. But are we able and willing to deploy ICT for health, something which is close to the heart?” said Robert Madelin, Director-General of DG Information Society and Media at the European Commission.

‘Big data’ can potentially have an impact on health given everything that technology already knows about us, said Madelin. “Smartphones already have sensors that tell us the temperature, that tell you where you are, and so on – in future, the technology around us will interact with them and give us information too,” he predicted.

“This may seem scary to some, but there are opportunities too. It may help doctors to diagnose what’s in front of them, for example via databases of evolving medical fact,” Madelin said.

“Data raises the bar for the delivery of health support like never before, and raises the bar of individual responsibility,” the Commission director said.

“In future, telemedicine will be everywhere. It can save lives as well as hospital beds. Telemedicine can also make health care more cost-effective. Some areas are under-researched. Maybe a mobile phone can give you cognitive behavioural therapy as effectively as a person,” he said.

“ICT will play a key role in future healthcare delivery. The evidence is already there, but Europe is not sure whether it wants the solutions […] Over-the-counter solutions are already there. The problem is that Europe’s 500 million citizens aren’t sure whether they want them yet,” Madelin said.

“ICT can only make healthcare delivery more efficient and effective by actively involving patients. Explore what lies behind patients’ acceptance and confidence in ICT,” said Nicola Bedlington, director of the European Patients’ Forum and a member of the CHES Steering Committee.

“Ageing is a growing issue. Patients with chronic diseases are living longer. ICT and telehealth can help patients to manage their chronic diseases on a day-to-day basis, but’s it’s still too much of a minority. It’s the exception rather than the rule,” Bedlington lamented.

“We believe ICT can be a major, driving force in the development of effective, quality and cost-efficient health care. ICT can save money and time, for example by reducing the need for face-to-face visits. It can complement the human factor, but never replace it,” she said.

“The relationship between patient and trusted health professional can never be replaced,” she argued.

Obstacles to be overcome regarding the uptake of healthcare ICT include end-user resistance, lack of user training, lack of eHealth literacy and the need to combat the ‘silo approach’, she said.

“ICT can improve quality of life and satisfaction with health care, but it is highly subjective. Patient involvement is crucial. Are the benefits perceived as such by the patients themselves?” she wondered.

“Healthcare insurers – so-called mutualités – are very conservative and look for added value for their members, such as ways to improve the quality of care and to reduce costs,” said Jan van Emelen, Innovation Director of the Association Internationale de la Mutualité.

“This is why it takes so long regarding ICT. It’s a very conservative market. It mustn’t be considered as functioning like other markets,” Van Emelen said.

He made the following recommendations:

  • Early detection of chronic conditions.
  • Early intervention based on professional coaching and self-management.
  • IT tools to enable self-management (e.g. personal health records).
  • Develop a management tool that integrates all aspects of an individual citizen’s health care, including medical, social and emotional issues.

“People are more likely to take care of themselves when they’re having fun. It’s an extremely simple message, but it has huge implications for public health,” said Joel Haspel, Director of EMEA Healthcare Strategy at Oracle.

“It stands to reason that if we can find ways to delay the onset of chronic diseases, we get not just higher total life expectancy, but higher healthy life expectancy, with a shorter gap in years between them,” Haspel said.

“It comes down to behaviour, or more to the point, changing unhealthy behaviour,” he argued.

“Governments can only regulate so much. Education, while important, can’t change everyone’s behaviour or transform a society on its own. So what else can be done, and can technology play a role?” Haspel asked.

“The emerging field of ‘gameification’ is doing its best to find out. Gameification is about searching for ways to harness our natural desire for fun – our drive to be both competitive and playful – and using this to help us to live longer and healthier lives,” the Oracle boss said.

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Coalition for Health, Ethics and Society (CHES)