Ageing populations and the prevalence of chronic diseases are placing an ever-greater strain on European healthcare systems. For many medical professionals, the era of “eHealth” has become an urgent necessity, with innovative new technologies as the best means of achieving cost efficiencies and providing better standards of care. The EU-funded READI FOR HEALTH project has made important steps towards creating the necessary conditions for a functioning eHealth market. Creating an eHealth market ‘Technology can help health systems to lower spending and offer superior healthcare delivery, such as monitoring chronic conditions more effectively to avoid acute events, improving clinical decisions and promoting healthier behaviours,’ explains project coordinator Myriam Martín from TICBioMed in Spain. ‘When applied effectively, these “eHealth” solutions can deliver more personalised “citizen-centric” healthcare, which is more targeted, effective and efficient in reducing errors and the length of hospitalisation. However, major obstacles still need to be overcome in order for eHealth to yield the results we expect.’ Martín argues that the reason why a functioning eHealth market has not yet been fully developed in Europe is not because the technology is unavailable, but rather that the take-up of innovation is substantially slower in a sector dependent on public financing. Furthermore, ICT companies need to collaborate closely with regulators, understand healthcare delivery and appreciate the need to protect sensitive patient data. Regions of excellence In order to address this, the READI FOR HEALTH project focused on strengthening the innovation and research potential of four leading eHealth regions (Murcia, Skåne, Oulu and Midi-Pyrénées), enabling them to quickly identify, acquire and implement eHealth solutions. A key means of achieving this has been through the creation of a global network. This network, which brought together SMEs, policy makers and technology experts, facilitated overseas contacts and market intelligence and enabled ICT SMEs to identify and have access to promising technologies. Project partners then supported the implementation of these innovations and carried out economic assessments. ‘This network has also helped to raise awareness among citizens, patients and health professionals of the potential that eHealth solutions have in enabling individuals to manage their conditions or even prevent them from arising,’ says Martín. ‘We demonstrated that the development – and above all implementation – of successful eHealth strategies requires commitment from political decision makers, healthcare leaders and stakeholders who all share the same vision and objectives.’ Once suitable innovations had been identified, the project pioneered new Public Private Partnerships and purchasing mechanisms such as Pre-Commercial Procurement (PCP) in order to bring them to market. Advances in cloud computing, Big Data and secure information access from any device for example were identified as key technologies with valuable eHealth potential. Identifying future challenges ‘The project has also shown how important it is to consider the influence of specific regional factors in procuring innovation,’ said Martín. ‘For example, there were two great procurement opportunities for regional stakeholders in Oulu, but because the regulatory situation is unclear, municipalities saw no interest in investing. Numerous barriers prevent the public sector from acting as an intelligent and informed customer.’ Other barriers to effective implementation identified by the project include cultural concerns, organisational deficiencies and the inherent risk aversion of the public sector. Addressing these concerns while opening up business opportunities for SMEs will help ensure that Europe takes full advantage of the opportunities presented by eHealth. The READI FOR HEALTH project has gone some way to achieving these goals.
READI FOR HEALTH, SMEs, eHealth, pre-commercial procurement, PCP, ageing, chronic diseases, ICT