Digital Health – The impact of Big Data & AI on EU healthcare systems?




There are completely new opportunities related to the healthcare area. The new drivers come from the digital revolution. Digital devices are around us – everywhere. We have computers in our pockets. We use wearables with chips monitoring the real-time state of our health and transferring data to our clinics via sensors network. We can start taking responsibility for our own health, because now we know much more about health in general, and the specificity of our personal health condition. Interactions between us and our physicians are changing. They are based on the broader package of information and mutual efforts and goals resulting in steady improvement. They need to be based also to a greater extent on trust.

All this is possible due to digital devices and applications. And it is the background for the shift paradigm in the healthcare area. Because it allows for the key shift: from the model oriented on “diseases treated” to the model based on “diseases avoided” formula. This is the real possibility to establish patient-centred solutions that would be more preventive cost effective and, furthermore, that would be oriented on healthy lifestyle and healthy ageing.

What should we do to support this kind of development?

Firstly, we need to improve the infrastructure and have the fast Internet all over Europe. We should start working on 5G and have the solutions allowing for reactions and traffic management in milliseconds. It will be crucial for the telemedicine development. Also it is important to process Big Data related to the healthcare in High Performance Computing Centres.

Secondly, we need good regulatory and non-regulatory framework. The basis for it would be data protection regulation, which will harmonize the rules for privacy protection at the European level, but also will allow the usage of pseudonimized and anonimized data for the purpose of research in the area of health comparative studies. It is a key to consider the problem of the ownership of data and rules governing sharing medical, patients’ data at various stages in the chain of the data processing. In many cases, we need now, and we will need in the coming future not only strong legal requirements, but also conditions for using the “soft law” solutions, as code of conducts currently discussed on mHealth (for applications). Of course, we need to avoid the redundant “optimism” and make apps development much more adjusted to clear rules. Other forms of “soft law” are: guidelines made by European institutions, certification schemes, co-regulations among all stakeholders. It is also important because of one key reason. In the competition between technology/innovation and legislation the technology is always the winner. Technology is faster. So, if we want to avoid the “deadlock” in the eHealth development, we need to understand what kind of legal model we can provide. And be careful with overregulation.

Thirdly, safety and security are the key technical goals. The networks among hospitals and clinics, conditions for data transfer between many institutions and subjects, encryption and authentication tools from the very beginning of the process to the end. All these measures create the confidence. Privacy protection and security conditions are two sides of the same coin – trust.

Fourthly, the main benefit is obvious. Due to new technologies and the clear conditions specifying how to use them, due to the certainty of the reliability of the technologies (which is important for physicians’ feeling of the certainty and give the strong framework for liability), we can establish the new model of the medical services. These will be personalized services, adjusted not only to our individual needs and expectations, but also to our individual characteristics. Personalized medical services, user friendly solutions adjusted to the lifestyle.  Furthermore, we can create the real demand. The supply on the side of the business and this demand from the users/patients are key as  digital game changers. It is important both for the digital development and for the paradigm shift in the healthcare area. If we can say what is crucial for the full digital development, this digital shift paradigm in the healthcare area based on demand/supply factor is one of the most significant.

Fifthly, the eHealth model development, this shift paradigm can change many dimensions of how the healthcare area functions. But the role of human factor will remain. The interactions between patients and physicians should remain meaningful because they play a significant role enriching the process of cooperation between these two subjects aiming at achieving common goals. Healthy life and, especially relevant for elderly people, healthy ageing are the common objectives. In order to achieve them we need to establish and develop the special, digital health literacy. It means that the introduction of new solutions should be linked with promotion and awareness raising concerning eHealth challenges. It is important for all sides: for doctors and for patients. It is significant for the objectives of the public health. Finally, it should be related to the programs, which can support elderly generations in e-skills development, which means also the proper usage of all new devices.

Sixthly, we need to incorporate those new trends to the healthcare public system. It is the only way for all of us to benefit. But it requires not only technological development, well-structured regulatory and non-regulatory framework, political will both at the European and national level, but also starting the work to answer the question: how to finance this shift paradigm in the healthcare area and which partners could contribute to that?

Just six points, but many opportunities for healthcare area.