European Health Parliament – Debate – Barriers to adopting digital health in Europe

Today I attending the European Health Parliament Plenary session.

According to a recent Eurobarometer survey, less than one in five of us (18 per cent) have used online health and care services in the last year. That’s quite surprising in this digital age, more so when we consider that 76 per cent of Europeans use the internet every day and that Europeans have a generally positive attitude towards digital technologies.

I am certain that healthcare will be the lead industrial area of such a revolution and one of the major catalysts for change is going to be artificial intelligence.

With the evolution of digital capacity, more and more data is produced and stored in the digital space. The amount of available digital data is growing at a mind-blowing speed, doubling every two years.

There is so much data to utilize: patient medical history records, treatment data – and lately information coming from wearable health trackers and sensors. This huge amount of data could be analyzed in details not only to provide patients who want to be proactive with better suggestions about lifestyle, but it could also serve healthcare with instructive pieces of information about how to design healthcare based on the needs and habits of patients.

We have not yet reached the state of “real” AI, but it is ready to sneak into our lives without any great announcement or fanfares – narrow AI is already in our cars, in Google searches, Amazon suggestions and in many other devices. Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, Google’s OK Google, and Amazon’s Echo services are nifty in the way that they extract questions from speech using natural-language processing and then do a limited set of useful things, such as look for a restaurant, get driving directions, find an open slot for a meeting, or run a simple web search.

The most obvious application of artificial intelligence in healthcare is data management. Collecting it, storing it, normalizing it, tracing its lineage – it is the first step in revolutionizing the existing healthcare systems. Recently, the AI research branch of the search giant, Google, launched its Google Deepmind Health project, which is used to mine the data of medical records in order to provide better and faster health services. The project is in its initial phase, and at present, they are cooperating with the Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust to improve eye treatment.

What do we need to make these really happen?

We have to tear down the prejudices and fears regarding artificial intelligence and help the general population understand how AI could be beneficial and how we can fight its possible dangers. The biggest fear is that AI will become so sophisticated that it will work better than the human brain and after a while, it will aim to take control over our lives. Stephen Hawking even said that the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race. Elon Musk agreed.

We need the following preparations to avoid the pitfalls of the utilization of AI:

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 to understand that new forms of medical services and medicine will be based on the DATA PROCESSING. There is no possibility to start with data driven medicine without accessibility of data, background for AI development as key complementary tool for adequate diagnosis, proper schemes for using and sharing the data – without the trustworthy cooperation among all stakeholders, especially between  patients and physicians.

We need to collect those data, analyse, use, re-use also for making the big collections of data (bigger population as a reference point) which in the case of the rare diseases allow us to recognise deeper and better the way in which the disease is developing.

We need to have access to the Artificial Intelligence  and algorithms allowing for those analysis with all safeguards needed.

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, 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?

There is no possibility to build advantages related to the e-health without cooperation of all institutions and partners considering the new model of financing the healthcare system transformation in the direction: much more preventive than only reactive

We need to call for leadership and cooperation between ICT and health to:

  1. Connecting remote, rural and underserved communities with referral centers and expert care,
  2. Digital literacy, facilitating communications between health workers, specialists and patients;
  3. Improving quality of care through digital solutions for diagnosis, clinical decision support systems, monitoring patient compliance with treatment,
  4. Optimizing resource allocation and lowering healthcare costs through more efficient care coordination
  5. Improving data management for surveillance, reporting, accountability.