Digital health: a patient-first approach is key to progress
Most areas of life in Europe have embraced digital technology, but healthcare has been slow on the uptake. To integrate new technologies successfully, we must let patients’ needs lead the way.
The group of people who may benefit from digital health is incredibly diverse: from digital natives and social media gurus to people who may be unfamiliar with digital technology or have security concerns.
Why the slow uptake of digital health?
Information and communication technology has permeated almost every aspect of day-to-day life. In 2016, over 80% of EU citizens aged 16–74 used the internet. It seems bizarre, then, that digital technologies are still not integral to our health systems.
There are signs that the public is ready for digital health: in the 2016 Philips Future Health Index survey, more than 77% of respondents attributed great potential to connected health. Many people already share health information online when seeking advice, and there is evidence that most people are willing to share their electronic health record with their healthcare professional. (Furthermore, it is questionable whether current methods of storing patient data are safer than storing them digitally.) This public readiness should be acknowledged, and acted on.
Many people already share health information online when seeking advice.
Bringing digital health to the front line
It is essential to align eHealth strategies and services with patients’ needs and perspectives – this is the only way to truly foster patient empowerment and adoption of eHealth. This means identifying patients’ needs and involving them in the design process of any eHealth intervention.
Some interesting examples of patient-led innovations include:
- An app that tracks children with special needs, which was developed by a man whose son has autism
- A computer game controlled by exhalation in a breathing tube, created by a father to help his daughter endure her treatment for cystic fibrosis
- A peer-programmed open artificial pancreas system for people with diabetes.
It is necessary to ask how we can cater to a wide range of needs – especially those of people who could potentially benefit most from eHealth interventions, but are more likely to have problems accessing them, e.g. elderly people and marginalised or vulnerable communities. In the face of such diversity of users, solutions must recognise and develop local diversities.
Patient-led innovation is an excellent first step, but to effect real change in our healthcare systems, we need shared standards and structures in place. This will allow end users to easily access and adopt digital health.
Progress can only be achieved through a system-wide approach; otherwise, health services may not keep up with new innovations. As David Maguire, Economic and Data Analyst at the King’s Fund, has pointed out: ‘If interoperability is not embraced [by health services] in the same way it is by the public, then one day you might have to bring your mobile device along to your appointment just to let your doctor borrow your integrated care record.’
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the individual authors and do not represent the views of The Health Policy Partnership.