Imagine this: a Dutch patient with a heart condition and conscious of the importance of exercise, is on holiday in Valencia and decides to go for a run. She’s wearing a sensor patch that tracks and reports her vital signs, feeding into her electronic medical record (EMR). While she’s exercising, subtle physiological variations signal a change in her condition. Her doctor’s office in the Netherlands receives an alert and asks her to visit a clinic in Valencia that very day. Before she even arrives, clinicians examine her vital signs in real-time remotely, allowing them to offer faster diagnosis and more responsive treatment. All this adds up to better medical care.
This is not a scenario far into the future; it’s already possible for doctors to monitor patients’ vital medical signs remotely.
Unfortunately, as things stand, such innovations face barriers to being rolled out across the European Union. This is because the many different healthcare systems in operation within the EU do not all recognise one another’s datasets. Put simply, there is no basic interoperability allowing devices, applications and systems to exchange and use each other’s electronic information. In addition, according to recent research by Deloitte (Digital transformation – Shaping the future of European healthcare, September 2020), “although an increasing number of technology-enabled systems and services are used by healthcare providers, the scale of adoption and the types and capabilities of digital technologies differ widely across Europe.”
This is particularly problematic when it comes to connecting EMRs. Patient data is often stored in disparate databases that do not and cannot connect with each other, making it difficult for health practitioners to take patient-centric decisions.
Interoperability and the benefits for EU citizens
Is the lack of interoperability such a critical issue? We believe so. It compromises patient safety. It hinders innovation in medical technology. It also wastes billions of euros a year due to, for example, failure of care delivery and coordination, overtreatment and administrative complexity.
At Philips, we recently launched the HealthSuite Informatics Platform, an integrated, modular set of standards-based capabilities that support the development of digital health propositions. In contrast to many ‘systems of record’, which are typically based on static, siloed files of patient information, HealthSuite enables patients and all the staff they interact with to better manage the care experience and pathways. It enables clinical and operational data to be federated and shared across systems and solutions from Philips and third parties within the healthcare enterprise, in a secure cloud environment, linking consumer and medical devices safely and reliably. We are proud of this technology, but to fulfill its potential, EU healthcare systems must be able to ‘talk’ to one another.
This kind of interoperability can have a transformative effect, allowing systems to deliver the right information at the right time, in the right context. By making information centralised and accessible, hospitals and clinics do not have to spend hours mining information from disjointed, complicated and varying technologies and locations, or rely on the patient knowing this information. They can focus on more meaningful patient care interactions, conversations and treatment plans. This would contribute to more accurate and timely clinical decisions, improve clinical workflows and reduce operational complexity – all while lowering costs.
And there is a growing appetite for greater interoperability. The results of a Special Eurobarometer survey on attitudes to digitalisation (December 2019) revealed that 43% of the respondents would be willing to share some personal information securely to improve medical research and care. This percentage has likely increased against the backdrop of the pandemic.
To seize the opportunities greater interoperability would bring, a Single Market approach needs to be embraced. In real terms, the technology and the regulation around it have to be built to support patient needs and lifestyles. The way to deliver on this is through the creation of a ‘health data space’. This will deliver many benefits, such as better coordinated, data-driven care, as well as deeper insights, because when this type of data is shared it unlocks the potential of big data and digital medicine.
Time is of the essence
COVID-19 has put a renewed emphasis on the importance of efficient, well-resourced healthcare. Significant investments in health are expected in the immediate years ahead, so the opportunity to build-in interoperability is now.
With this in mind, as part of the next wave of Single Market innovation, the EU should promote the use of standards and data exchange models to allow information to be shared between healthcare providers, professionals, patients, hospitals, pharmacies, laboratories and others, regardless of the application being used.
As technology advances further in the years to come, the sharing of patient data between medical devices and information systems can drive more seamless care and better health outcomes. For this reason, devices need to be able to seamlessly ‘communicate’, especially at a time when the Internet of Things can enable connected care across settings, supporting the goals of the Quadruple Aim – better health outcomes, improved patient and staff experience, and lower cost of care.
If we are to make the most of digital medicine – and the actionable insights it holds – then data should be available in formats that can be shared effortlessly, transparently and above all securely, within and between hospital systems, in the home, or on the move.
By making information centralised and accessible, hospitals and clinics do not have to spend hours mining information from disjointed, complicated and varying technologies and locations, or rely on the patient knowing this information.
Significant investments in health are expected in the immediate years ahead, so the opportunity to build-in interoperability is now.