Why national policies and business models must align to bring e-Health innovation into the mainstream

HealthBlog readers may recall reading about an event I facilitated in Brussels just before Christmas last year.  More than 90 customers, partners, developers, clinicians, and government officials gathered in Brussels, Belgium, to discuss “Embracing Cloud Computing in Health and Wellness”.  The event was perhaps all the more special because of its setting in the historic Concert Noble, an opulent building dating back to 1785.  One of the organizers of that event was my colleague Elena Bonfiglioli, who now serves as senior director for health Europe at Microsoft.  Recently, Elena was asked to contribute to a special report that appeared this week in The European Voice, the prime EU government elite weekly newspaper. 

The report, written by Peter O'Donnell, frames the place of healthcare in today’s European society - where previously complicated or exclusive treatments are now standardized and accessible through advances in technology. Mr. O’Donnell considers new developments in the EU landscape - how they are being financed, and the political motivation behind reform, then introduces the views of stakeholders broadly involved- patients, practitioners and politicians.

imageYou can read the full article here, although you will need to log into The European Voice web site to do so.  However, I particularly wanted to share some of Elena’s quotes in that article that explain why supporters of technological advances are impatient to see closer collaboration among stakeholders in both the public and private sectors.

Europe is not fully exploiting its international lead in applying ICT to health, according to Elena Bonfiglioli, senior director for health Europe at Microsoft. “It is already happening in pockets of innovation, expertise and excellence. The challenge is to up-scale those,” she says.

Properly deployed, ICT can make a major contribution to prevention as well as treatment, she says, and this remains insufficiently explored. The ingredients are there, she says, listing options across the range of health technologies from large and small companies. Now, she says, it is time for enterprise policy in the EU to support that market.

The approach should be from the perspective of industrial policy rather than taking e-health as the starting point. “This is where Europe is strong, with thousands of partners who create ICT-based solutions,” says Bonfiglioli. These, she says, should benefit from incentives for innovation. But she is yet to be convinced that the vision, imagination and commitment are there at political level. She is insistent on crucial factors such as integrating e-health applications with cloud computing. She says of EU policymakers: “I am confident that they care, but not that they dare.”

imageAs many of you know, the Health 2.0 Conference is front and center in San Francisco this week.  There too, private sector companies large and small are demonstrating technologies that could truly transform health and healthcare delivery.  But just as in Europe, without the appropriate public policy framework, and especially not without parallel transformations in the business models and payment systems that surround healthcare, we’ll just get more of the same.  Over and over again, as I’ve traveled around the globe I’ve seen advanced technologies that help engage patients and consumers in their own care.  I’ve seen solutions that enable clinicians to better communicate and collaborate with each other and with their patients.  I’ve observed powerful tools that help us analyze and use health data to advance new cures while saving money and driving greater efficiencies in care delivery.  But none of these solutions will find their way into the mainstream so long as our “systems” reward the status quo – not in Europe, not in the US, nor anywhere else.  Fortunately, I’m beginning to see greater awareness of this fact in the Payor community.  I’ve also been encouraged by recent conversations I’ve had with public officials in Europe and here in the US.  So, perhaps this is the breakout year for e-Health.  Perhaps the downturn in our global economies will serve as the needed catalyst to bring e-Health into the mainstream.

Bill Crounse, MD                           Senior Director, Worldwide Health           Microsoft 

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