It was already evident before the financial crisis. Surely, it has now become more urgent to act. Our healthcare systems as they operate today are unsustainable. They are currently consuming an average of 9 per cent of national GDP. Unless there are changes, this figure is set to increase in line with the increasing dependency of our ageing population and the rising tide of chronic disease.
In the face of the Euro crisis, the tendency is to cut costs, in a bid to pay down debt and balance the books. But when it comes to eHealth this would be a fundamental error. It would hold back investments in eHealth that in the medium and long-term promise to reduce the cost per patient of better, more personalised care, whilst providing broader access and faster delivery.
While there are many who appreciate the potential of eHealth, there is also considerable resistance to prioritising such investments in these straitened times. But the fact is that eHealth has the power to simultaneously enable better healthcare and deliver economic growth. This virtuous circle of “Care and Growth” will be built on Europe’s eHealth ecosystem of over 6,000 local and regional technology partners and health innovators, who - amongst others - are developing services on the Microsoft platform. These firms together generate an industry worth €37 billion, providing direct employment for millions of people in high value jobs.
In order to convince those who may question the value of investing in eHealth, Microsoft has identified seven principles for implementation that will ensure that eHealth systems live up to their potential and deliver ‘Real Impact for an eHeathier Tomorrow’. These principles include ensuring that patients feel a personal benefit; putting people before systems; ensuring systems can interoperate; looking at health beyond the perimeters of hospitals; ensuring that care pathways and internal processes are reshaped in parallel to the installation of eHealth systems; and investing for the longer term.
The health industry as a whole is way behind other sectors in its adoption of computer systems and digitisation. While this may be a drag on operational performance as things stand, it also presents an opportunity to deploy a range of technologies that are already available and have been tried and tested in other sectors, to deliver Real Impact. Independent of the vendor of choice, there is now an opportunity to invest in technologies that have the power to transform how our health systems operate. Such breakthrough solutions include Cloud computing; unified communication, of which Lync provides an excellent demonstration; business intelligence and data visualisation, for example through Bing! Maps; patient relationship management; natural user interfaces; and mobile health.
Based on its own experience and technologies, and after broad consultation with customers, industry experts and policy makers, Microsoft has summarised the new imperatives for eHealth in its ‘Manifesto for an eHealthier Europe’.
Under the Danish Presidency, a new European Union eHealth plan is currently being formulated. The challenges to a healthier Europe are real and imminent. Collectively, we have to provide better care through eHealth innovation, to make sure our health budgets are invested effectively, to underpin our collective non-negotiable priorities as citizens and as patients. The Manifesto is intended to highlight how this can be achieved. It is everybody’s business. We invite the Danish Presidency and the Commission to read our Manifesto – and to join us and all of Europe’s citizens in responding to this challenge.
Elena Bonfiglioli is Senior Director, Health Industry, Europe Middle East and Africa Public Sector, Microsoft