By Martyna Giedrojć, Policy Officer for Health Systems

“One of the features of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is that it doesn’t change what we are doing but it changes us in the way we do it; how we live, work, and relate to one another“

Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum

New technology is transforming the ways in which we shop, dine and travel. Should it also transform our health systems, the way we take care of our health and receive treatment?

Digital health is becoming one of the hottest subjects on the European agenda. EU Commissioner for Health Dr Andriukaitis likes to underline that “we have health in our pocket”   thanks to the European Health Insurance Card.

Recently he gave a speech on mobile apps’ future at a hearing in the European Parliament “Towards a mHealth Framework for Europe”. EU Research and Innovation has been investing strongly in the development of new mHealth solutions and funding deployment for eHealth.

During this year’s European Health Forum Gastein, DG CONNECT presented their latest eHealth achievements. An industry-led Privacy Code of Conduct for Mobile Health Apps is now in its final stages, awaiting the opinion of national Data Protection Authorities, as are the guidelines for the assessment of the validity and reliability of mHealth apps.

However, policy makers and regulators are struggling to keep up with technological development, as mobile health and wellbeing apps become more widely available. The idea of sharing data between people, facilities and companies raises many privacy concerns. Questions are also being raised about universal access to healthcare, growing inequalities in society, and exclusion of patients and health professionals from the technology development process.

Most people want to be innovative and progressive but also to be sure about their rights and safety. Digital health solutions should teach and empower everyone to better track, manage, and improve our own health. However, we need to be digitally and health-literate to make best use of information online – if patients are not able to understand the information provided through mobile health applications, we can’t be empowered. Misinformation and confusion can easily lead to unnecessary stress and hospital visits.

For this reason health professionals are understandably careful about changing existing procedures and tools. They know that any error in their diagnosis or treatment caused by “revolutionary” digital tools could pose a risk to patients’ safety.  Industry shaped solutions may also eagerly consume our health budgets.

Can we be sure that everyone will be able to access and benefit from digital health solutions? What about  older people, refugees and migrants, homeless, people with mental health issues or patients suffering from disease specific conditions?

E/mHealth shouldn’t be the goal in itself, but should best serve the needs of patients and health professionals. More willingness to re-organise patient care, to appreciate health professionals’ contribution, availability of incentives and ensuring the safety of information needs to be ‘designed-in’ from the start . Digital health technology should not translate the digital divide into further disadvantage and health inequality for some, but rather contribute to closing the gap and better health for all.

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