eHealth in action
Telemedicine or eHealth - the use of telecommunications to improve health services - is already being used in a variety of ways. As eHealth becomes more widespread and as further advances are made in telecommunications, the number and variety of uses will increase, to the further benefit of Europe's citizens.
Bringing ICT and healthcare together is not simply a matter of digitising and communicating matters of health, but rather opening a new world of doing things in ways that were not possible or even conceivable before. Just a few examples of the myriad possibilities are described here.
Effective prevention becomes possible
The old adage that prevention is better than the cure is well known, but until now difficult to realize. Preventive medicine not only reduces physical suffering, but is a more cost-effective use of stretched health-care budgets. EHealth, sensibly deployed, can play an important role e.g. through remote monitoring of those chronically or acutely ill, allowing early and timely recognition of symptoms, resulting in earlier diagnosis and simpler more effective and lower cost treatment. In the future patients will be able to monitor their health in their own homes and then send the data by phone, computer or television to a medical centre for checking.
Telemedicine can also be used to advise people, in an interesting and informative way, on health-care issues. Well-informed citizens are less likely to suffer from illnesses caused in part by factors such as over eating, lack of exercise, poor hygience or smoking.
Telecommunications can be an effective vehicle for training medical personnel and ensuring that wherever they are, and whenever they have need, they can keep abreast of the latest medical breakthroughs and discoveries.
An well informed health professional is more likely to ensure that all Europe's citizens receive similar high standards of treatment.
Saving time – for both the citizen and the health professional
The work of the health professional, e.g. in doctors' surgeries and outpatient departments can be more effectively administered by reducing unnecessary visits while at the same time ensuring that critical cases are seen more quickly. This is made possible when patients can monitor their health at home and send the data through to a medical centre for checking and assessing if the patient requires urgent attention or else should not be wasting his/her or the doctor’s time with unnecessary visits and tests.
Moreover, greater efficiency is achieved by issuing prescriptions electronically, employing smart health cards, and keeping records and laboratory results in electronic databases, where they can be made available quickly when needed. This not only saves time for patients and doctors alike, but avoids duplication of tests, allows easier comparison of medical records and allows the medical profession to dedicate more time to those most in need.
Keep close to your local doctors when away from home
Once eHealth becomes more established throughout Europe and data protection measures are in place, then any medical centre could, in principle, have access to a patient's medical records when needed.
This will mean fewer worries when travelling - whether on holiday or on business - as those responsible for medical treatment can check previous health records and medication, and consult with local doctors if necessary. Citizens who need constant checkups and controls will be able to keep in touch with their own doctor or health centre wherever they may be in Europe, and eventually other countries with compatible or interoperable systems.
In the future, eHealth will ensure that health care and expert medical advice is never far away, even for those living in remote areas, or regions cut off during emergencies. Decisions on utilising limited emergency transport systems (e.g. helicopters) can be more sensibly made, based on hard data.
Well-equipped ambulances can be rushed to the scene of a disaster and connected via satellite to medical centres thousands of miles away. Specialist doctors can then advise local medical staff on the best action to take or, when speed is of the essence, even guide them through an emergency operation.
Last update: 10 December 2004