The annual Med-e-Tel conference in Luxembourg, organised by the International Society for Telemedicine and eHealth, was an opportunity to learn about new relevant research and projects in the digital health area from around the globe. This year’s edition provided valuable insights into the use of e-health to care for people with specific conditions, and highlighted how EPHA’s members are also involved in finding practical solutions which can make a real difference to people’s lives.
EPHA member the Pharmaceutical Group of the European Union (PGEU), as key health actors, hosted a dedicated half-day session discussing the various uses of e/mHealth in community pharmacies and demonstrating how digital health improves their ability to better serve the public and expand their professional roles and responsibilities. Examples of how community pharmacies fill important gaps exist across Europe, including Portugal (e.g., use of mobile apps for patient engagement), Spain (creation of a pharmaceutical digital services hub) and Italy (tele-monitoring in community pharmacies). In line with PGEU’s 2016 statement on eHealth, the introduction of ePrescription is a vital development that remains under-used, and successful implementation depends on full national coverage and cross-border interoperability. To move things forward, PGEU recommends linking electronic health records with ePrescribing systems to allow healthcare professionals involved in patient care, including pharmacists, to access relevant patient information, update records, and identify and address potential medication and patient safety-related issues.
A session on mental health emphasised that technology cannot and must not be pushed on people. While telemedicine offers new ways of reaching out to rural populations in urbanised societies (e.g., Canada), and digital tools make psychologists more accessible to patients via teleconsultations from home or in supervised clinics, it remains difficult to evaluate whether these services can match face-to-face contacts. Every patient has different preferences, and while some are more relaxed in digital settings, others might feel more anxious. Fotis Papadopoulos noted, however in his presentation on tele-psychiatry uses in Sweden, such services are growing in popularity and there are signs they can work as well as conventional care if high quality solutions are employed. Looking into the future, he sees potential for the introduction of artificial intelligence and deep learning, virtual reality and holograms, e.g. to detect emotional states, provide certain treatments and improve patients’ wellbeing. Voice analysis and monitoring online behaviours are but two ways of determining people’s mental states. However, caution must be taken since stigma and discrimination are particularly severe for people experiencing mental health problems. Hence, tele-social-rehabilitation via a home-based video communication system is seen as a useful complementary tool for providing psycho-social support for patients with depression, schizophrenia, etc. requiring 24/7 access to care.
Another EPHA member, AGE Platform Europe, presented the i-PROGNOSIS project – “Intelligent Parkinson’s Disease Early Detection Guiding Novel Supportive Interventions,” as part of a session focusing on disease management, rehabilitation and remote monitoring. The H2020 project, led by Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, aims to provide technology-based solutions for Parkinson’s Disease, raise awareness and increase possibilities for self-health management. There is no cure for Parkinson’s Disease, which usually emerges in the 55+ age group – enabling patient empowerment and maintaining quality of life over the course of the disease is therefore particularly challenging. The project also aims to build early detection tests, based on users’ interaction with technology. Another presentation, focusing on early detection and self-management, discussed a specialised tele-rehabilitation programme for patients with heart failure, the Danish Future Patient Project.
A key added value of Med-e-Tel is the global perspective it offers, and a number of presentations showcased developments in South America, Africa and Asia. Unfortunately, as Adebowale Ojo (University of Kwa-Zulu Natal, Durban) highlighted, while the use of SMS is common in countries like South Africa for health education, behavioural interventions, and emotional support (e.g. for pregnant women), the evidence base still isn’t big enough and the benefits remain unclear. Yet EPHA believes Europe can learn from the use of low-tech solutions in the Global South since access to healthcare is also a growing European problem.
For EPHA the discussion continues, with the organization of a session with the Maltese Ministry of Health on the further uses of digital technologies for health during the 2017 eHealth Week.