eHealth : a solution for sustainable public health in Europe?
The issue of e-health is gaining more and more importance in EU policies as it is seen as a way to make our health systems more sustainable in an ageing Europe while offering new opportunities for economic growth.
eHealth, what is it?
The terms eHealth (electronic or online health) and mHealth (mobile health) refer to the use of new technology in health. Work in this area covers many different issues such as transfer of information between healthcare professionals and institutions, and the use of digital solutions by patients to monitor their health condition either through a computer, tablet, smartphone or even a smartwatch.
The use of new technologies in health is regarded as a solution to demographic ageing as it could support independent living at home in allowing older people to remain in their home for longer. It would also support the work of the medical staff in enabling to monitor people’s health from their home, a solution which can be convenient in particular for people with limited mobility or in some remote areas where doctors are scarce.
However before eHealth can be more widely developed, some important barriers need to be overcome, mainly in terms of digital skills (also called digital literacy), data protection, social interactions...
A recent Eurobarometer on ‘Attitudes towards the impact of digitisation and automation on daily life’ has indeed revealed that 43% of the respondents (across all age groups) would not like online access to their medical and health records and 25% do not consider themselves sufficiently skilled in the use of digital technology in their daily lives. Assistance to ensure the proper use of digital devices should then be a key concern in EU digital policies, in particular in sensitive sectors such as health.
Always according to that survey, only a small part of the population would feel comfortable with having a robot to provide them with services and companionship in old age (26% of the respondents). On the other hand, 65% of the respondents would be willing to give their health and personal wellbeing data to their doctor or health care professional.
Data protection: a key EU challenge
With the increasing digitalization of our society, data protection has become a priority issue at EU level. The protection of personal data is indeed an essential enabler of the EU Digital Single Market Strategy and the development of e-health in Europe. It is furthermore enshrined in the Treaty on the functioning of the European Union (article 16) - according to the Treaty, everybody has the right to the protection of personal data concerning them – and to is also explicitly recognised as a fundamental right in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (Article 8).
Last but not least, the EU’s Data Protection Directive entered into force in May 2016 and address among other issues key aspects of processing personal health data and ensure privacy for patients while still allowing a high level of health protection
The objective of this directive is to give citizens back control over of their personal data, and to simplify the regulatory environment for business so as to ensure that personal data enjoys a high standard of protection everywhere in the EU.Personal data can be gathered lonly under strict conditions, for a legitimate purpose. And the persons or organisations which collect and manage your personal information must protect it from misuse and must respect certain rights of the data owners which are guaranteed by EU law. EU citizens have the right to complain and obtain redress if your data is misused anywhere within the European Union.The EU's Data Protection Directive also foresees specific rules for the transfer of personal data outside the Union to ensure the best possible protection of your data when it is exported abroad.
AGE work on eHealth
Considering the challenges and the important impact the digitalization of health can have on older people’s daily life, AGE also works on the issue of eHealth, in particular on the various aspects of accessibility (appropriate skills, user-friendliness, affordability) and the involvement of end-users (older people) in the design and development of potential digital solutions for health.
To that end, AGE Platform Europe is part of the e-Health Stakeholders Group coordinated by the the European Commission - in which we seek to voice our members’ concerns and views. It also participates to the working group of EPHA (European Public Health Alliance) on Digital Health.
AGE is also very active in that area thanks to its involvement in EU research projects focusing on eHealth solutions to foster independent living in old age, such as:
- iPrognosis, which has developed an application for the early detection of Parkinson's disease: AGE is coordinating the i-PROGNOSIS Community that will use such mobile application designed to help better and earlier detect Parkinson’s. The app, released on World Parkinson’s Day on 11 April 2017, is currently available in Germany, Greece and the UK (freely downloadable on your smartphone). That will help creating an algorithm for early detection of Parkinson's Disease
- FrailSafe, which works on the prevention of frailty in old age. Games and devices such as the tablet, dynamometer and beacons, designed for counteracting physical and cognitive frailty, are now tested by volunteers in Cyprus, France and Greece.
- Mobile-Age co-designs and co-creates mobile applications helping older citizens to better use the transport, information and health services that their municipalities offer; four pilots sites are active, each covering a specific relevant part of our lives: social inclusion (Bremen), extending independent living (South Lakeland), a safe and accessible city for seniors (Zaragoza) and personal health information (Central Macedonia).
- Brochure ICT for Ageing Well- Listen to what older persons think! (Home Sweet Home project)
- EPHA Discussion paper “Digital solutions for health and disease management” (May 2017)
- BEUC Position Paper, “Health in the time of smartphones” (Nov. 2016)