Many people are already embracing the possibilities of eHealth but what is preventing eHealth from becoming a widespread reality? And what could be the potential solutions?
The eHealth revolution has been a slow burner for many years but the advent of mobile and wearable technologies (from mHealth to smart watches), Big Data and the Internet of Things provide an array of new possibilities for eHealth as vast amounts of health data can in theory be (self-)generated, transmitted, stored and analysed.
However, a number of key issues are still preventing eHealth from positively impacting the lives of patients.
‘eHealth ready’ does not always mean ‘ready’
Although many health systems are still paper based, clearly preventing the implementation of new technology-based systems, even where they are ‘eHealth ready’ (e.g. Scandinavia), this does not automatically mean that existing procedures permit or enable making effective use of all this information.
At the 2016 EHTEL Joint Digital Healthcare Symposium, which discussed the results of the United for Health project focusing on scaling up telehealth, EHTEL Secretary General Marc Lange stated that “eHealth is moving from an experimental environment to being an element of usual care”.
According to Lange, eHealth sustainability not only hinges on appropriate infrastructure and common platforms, but crucially also calls for the readiness of people and organisations to embrace change.
The United for Health project confirmed that patient/user acceptance is key, that solutions need to be embedded in existing care processes, and that cultural issues and training are vital for successful deployment.
Complex user experience
The current dilemma is partly related to the fact that eHealth technology is already quite advanced and available, and many people are now used to using Information and Communication Technology (ICT), including mobile solutions.
However, health systems are unable to make best use of the opportunities afforded by eHealth as institutional modi operandi are not aligned with it. A lack of transformation also complicates the user experience (where solutions are already applied, e.g. insufficient user-friendliness) and continuity of care, especially in a cross-border healthcare context.
Successful integration of eHealth into national health systems depends also on the adaptation of the entire care processes and business models. In order to get there, strong political engagement is required.
Transforming systems in a way that would give patients and health professionals more of an active role, as users of new technology in the care continuum, is a priority. However, it also remains important to ensure that eHealth solutions are safe in terms of individuals’ privacy, and protected from the commercial interests of industry actors who wish to ‘get to know’ patients by tracking them and their behaviours.
Still far from national implementation
Tapani Piha, head of the eHealth and HTA at the Health directorate of the European Commission, states it is now crucial that national governments communicate with each other and push for national implementation to gain from the heritage of big EU projects like EPSOS and the adoption of guidelines (ePrescription, patient summaries) by the eHealth Network.