Regular readers of HealthBlog know that in my role at Microsoft, I and other members of my team, travel the world. We therefore get to see lots of innovative uses of technology in health and healthcare firsthand. I often write about some of the amazing uses of Information Communications Technology (ICT) to deliver healthcare information and services in Europe, Asia, and other parts of the world that I visit. The use of such technology tends to be more creative and certainly more commonplace than is typical in North America. However, even in those countries where ICT is more commonly being used, I still see far too many pilots and not enough use of ICT that is truly at scale. I have leveled my criticism about this in Europe where I’ve seen pilot after pilot provide proof that ICT can successfully be deployed to provide care and help manage chronic diseases at lower cost, higher quality, and with improved patient convenience and satisfaction. At the end of each successful pilot, another pilot is ordered. This often begs me to provoke the question, “When will we start seeing the use of ICT in healthcare at scale”?
I now believe the EU is on the cusp of addressing that issue through an initiative called United4Health. The mission of United4Health is to find ways of “maximising new technology, such as telehealth solutions, that can help improve healthcare itself while simultaneously increasing access to care and saving resources” for citizens in Europe. In their own words, “United4Health will utilise the results and good practices from previous projects and trials, and provide scaled-up solutions.” The services being deployed and studied target Diabetes, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), and Cardiovascular disease.
Earlier this week, I was alerted to just one example of this good work coming out of Norway—The Norwegian COPD pilot. The underlying principles of this project include:
- Adapting new COPD follow-up in existing healthcare services according to the Norwegian regulations
- Establishing clinical procedures in collaboration between Hospital – Municipality health care services – General Practitioner
- Revising the Patient Treatment Flow Procedures
- Shared access to medical information according to legal requirements and security policies
- Implementing new technology into existing infrastructure within the secured Norwegian Health Network
Lessons learned from this and other larger-scale projects across Europe will help define the most effective strategies. All projects are very user-centric with particular attention to the involvement of doctors, nurses, technical personnel and patients themselves. There is also heavy emphasis on legal, regulatory and security issues. In fact, I often hear from my American colleagues that the reason we are falling behind other parts of the world in the use of ICT in healthcare is because of America’s more intense regulatory and privacy requirements. Don’t be fooled by that excuse. If anything, Europe is even more stringent about such requirements. None-the-less, they realize that with their aging populations, growing incidence of chronic disease, and yet fewer resources to deliver the care citizens will need, they must develop more efficient and effective models of care including the use of ICT at scale.
United4Heath is a concerted effort to do just that. Initiatives like the Norwegian COPD Pilot are already proving that ICT is an important component in the future of healthcare delivery. As the next round of pilots build on the successes and learnings of predecessors studies, knowledge will be gathered in a systematic way that will help all of Europe plan for a very near future when more and more care can be effectively delivered and monitored in the patient’s own home.
Bill Crounse, MD Senior Director, Worldwide Health Microsoft