eHealth: Where is the funding? (panel 3)
It must be personalized and accessible, perhaps through an e-card
eHealth is the latest term referring to the use of ICT- Information and Communication Technology - in the field of health. As Salah Mandil, senior consultant for International Telecomunication Union (ITU), pointed out, the health applications of IT started out copying the uses in the industrial and commercial sectors, that is, administration and finance, statistics and epidemiology, modeling based on numerical variables and literature services.
Later on it departed from this model and turned towards more health-specific needs, such as the use of images, both still and dynamic, destined for diagnose, treatment, and training.
Nowadays, IT is present in all aspects of health care and services. The challenges currently faced by eHealth are how to make it personal and how to finance it. According to Petra Wilson, Deputy Director of the European Health Management Association, the Ministers of Finance are the real Ministers of Health when it comes to eHealth, as they are the ones who allocate the necessary funds.
Petra told the story of Sophie, an ePatient. Sophie read some information in a life-style website that prompted her to carry out a self-exploration which revealed the existence of a lump in her breast. She then used the internet to make an appointment with her GP. Her doctor used an online medical network to confirm his suspicions and made appointments with a radiologist and an oncologist. Her oncologist then requested a second opinion online. During Sophie’s treatment, an electronic patient record was kept, which was subsequently used for her online follow-up. When she went back home after the treatment, she subscribed to various online self-help and social support groups. She can also access both her GP and her oncologist through the computer for long-term care.
This is, of course, a fictional and somewhat futuristic case. However, it would be perfectly possible today, as all the individual steps described in this process are already in place. Trouble is, governments have not yet invested in making it possible as a whole. The annual European expenditure in health care amounts to €700 billion; the European ICT market moves €673 billion a year, but eHealth accounts for less than 2% of the total ICT market.
The deployment of eHealth is, therefore, proportionally very low. Besides being an information and communication system, eHealth is also an attitude, a state of mind, a commitment to networking in order to improve care and services. The major challenge is how to make it personal, secure, safe, and most crucially, trustworthy. eHealth must be personalized and accessible, perhaps through an e-card not unlike current credit cards, but confidentiality must be preserved, and informed consent must be obtained before using any of the data stored in it. eHealth would provide a powerful tool for fast access to vital data, online collaboration and research, and support to public health management.