DIGITAL HEALTH & CARE: Europe seeks the code for digital health


Since computer technology can nowadays find you the best restaurant or the quickest route home, keep you in touch with friends around the globe, and help you in a job search, it seems common logic that it should become a routine part of the health care scene, too.

Though only up to a point, as it turns out. The logic is impeccable. The logistics are less evident.

At its simplest, if your app directs you to a bad restaurant, or chooses the wrong route, the worst outcome may be no more than mild indigestion or a few minutes delay. But it’s not the same with a metering app that is supposed to warn a diabetic of dangerous glucose levels or advise remedial action for someone with a heart condition. If digital technology slips up on measuring a vital sign or transmitting critical symptoms, the consequences may be grave — in every sense of the word.

These questions have acquired new urgency as the technological possibilities increase. While computers have been playing a role in health care for decades, it is ICT, the ever-closer linkage between information and computer technologies, that has inspired new hopes — and fears.

No longer is it just hospitals digitizing their patient records, physicians peering inside the body with scanning equipment, clinical laboratories automating their analysis of samples, or drug developers accelerating the screening and modelling of potential treatments. The new potential of digital health care is simultaneously hailed as the salvation of hard-pressed health systems and reviled as a dangerous intrusion of Big Brother into citizens’ most intimate details.

The advocates see opportunities for patients, providers, and industry. And European industry stands to win from “a promising market” creating jobs and growth, “by combining the hi-tech, ICT, smart homes, medical devices, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology and health care sectors.”

Sceptics issue warnings about threats to privacy, and the health risks from exposing citizens and patients to untried and unregulated innovations.
Pragmatists meanwhile point to the numerous technical obstacles still to be overcome if digital health is to deliver on its promise.


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