Is the power of health technology outpacing laws and regulations?

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On behalf of Philips I recently wrote a letter to Andrus Ansip, European Commissioner for Digital Single Market and Vice President of the European Commission. In this letter I share some of the shifts we believe are necessary to help moving towards a connected care needed to ensure a sustainable, patient-centered healthcare system. I thought it would be nice to share it here to get some additional points of view from others.

Dear Vice-President Ansip,

On behalf of Philips, I truly welcome the European Commission’s efforts to promote the development and adoption of digital technologies across Europe and to actively push for a greater role for digital in the European economy and society.

With even more enthusiasm we have been following the review of the Digital Single Market and we welcome the digitalization of healthcare among its priorities. Unlocking the full potential of digital health will facilitate a holistic view of people’s health journeys, starting with healthy living and prevention, precision diagnosis and personalized treatment, to care in the house, where the cycle of healthy living starts again. At Philips, we are convinced that digitalization of healthcare will bring meaningful innovation that will improve people’s lives and will help Europe moving towards a future-ready and sustainable healthcare system.

We live in unprecedented times. As we speak, rapid changes are taking place in the healthcare industry where patients increasingly demand opportunities to be involved and manage their own health, where the traditional relationship between a patient with a single healthcare practitioner has developed into patients who want to have the possibility to receive cross-border healthcare in any Member State of the Union at any moment in time and, where healthcare practitioners want to increase the accessibility for patients to be monitored at their home by telehealth services. My observation is that all these societal changes together with the proliferation of technological developments represent an amazing opportunity that needs our attention and reflection. 

At Philips we continuously strive to unite all stakeholders, from healthcare professionals to governments, but also the public, in developing a common approach. The goal is to create awareness on the potential of connected care technology and to contribute to an open dialogue that will hopefully enable this connected technology to emerge and create better patient outcomes at lower costs.

An element that I wanted to bring to your attention though is that I am concerned that the power of health technology is outpacing laws and regulations. Compared to other technologies and industries such as radio, television, transport and financial services, which have had decades to develop relevant rules, standards, ways of working and infrastructures in which benefits are realized and potential risks are understood, connected healthcare technology is still developing and clearly needs time to evolve.

Below, I would like to share with you some of the shifts we believe are necessary to help moving towards a better connected care needed to ensure a sustainable, patient-centered healthcare system.

Enabling a real conversation about data

In your blog, you recently mentioned: “[…] with healthcare, we could be making more effective and efficient use of data”. I could not agree more with this statement.

Information and connected care technologies play an increasingly important role in the provision and management of healthcare and clinical services. In this context, innovation through the use of data and the desire to protect individuals’ right to privacy in respect of such data, must be clearly linked and mutually reinforcing.

We are transitioning to an era in which data (including personal data) is a strong force to create a healthcare system fit for a society which sees increasing occurrence of chronic disease. Having health data more readily available will offer new ways to identify emerging health trends, to facilitate early and precise diagnosis, enable personalized treatment and ultimately, it will improve the quality of healthcare outcomes.

For the full benefits of these connected care technologies to be realized, we must build a robust foundation of trust. Particularly because most people perceive health data as sensitive data, there is an urgent need to reassure individuals that when their data is collected and used, the process and outcome will be fair and safe.

While we recognize that at the heart of the existing data regulations in Europe there are principles and values which seek to protect individuals’ privacy and, which provide a foundation for trust and people’ confidence, we also observe that there is a need for industry and policymakers to work together to create practical ways of fulfilling these regulatory principles that would also apply consistently across Europe.

At Philips, we believe that there is an opportunity to build healthcare solutions in the European Union which maximize value for individuals and society while minimizing any causes for concern over data practices and privacy. In these exciting times and looking at the future of healthcare, we feel compelled to encourage an inclusive and constructive conversation around the ownership and use of data, a conversation which leads to an approach that sustainably and fairly maximizes the contribution data makes to improving individuals’ lives and society as a whole.

Fostering human-centric IT

The implementation of digital solutions and applications is crucial for healthcare technology to flourish. These solutions can, among others reduce the rate of errors and adverse events in healthcare by analyzing large amounts of data to detect actual or potential adverse events and then quickly alert a clinician. They can also assist in improving communications between doctors and clinicians through the use of wireless devices for timely access of electronic patient records. At Philips, we understand that IT deployment plays an essential role in the digitalization of healthcare, which makes us much more of an IT software company than most people realize. More and more, we augment our systems and devices with “smartness” powered by software and connectivity.

In order to enable patients to access to healthcare services across Europe, we need more and better integrated IT systems. They need to be more interoperable to facilitate continuity of care for patients moving between different providers within a country but also cross-border in the EU. It is essential to address all levels of interoperability: from organizational and technical (including adequate security levels), to data protection and other legal frameworks, to challenges relating to the coding used for example to translate the classification of medicines, etc.

The deployment of human-centric IT solutions across Member States requires a good understanding of the patient care and treatment processes, in order to identify standards that will facilitate integrated IT in Europe. No doubt, this is a challenge and the key to success is having highly motivated professionals, governments, and EU institutions to take up this challenge. A challenge where the needs of patients should be at the center rather than at the peripherals of IT healthcare technology.

We believe there is no greater challenge we could wish for and at Philips we are committed to closely cooperate with the European Commission, Member States and other stakeholders that understand the need to act now in order to deliver the future benefits of digital healthcare in Europe.

Creating opportunities for new care models

The Internet of Medical Things, Artificial Intelligence and telehealth are examples of technological developments that are establishing -and quickly expanding- their presence in healthcare. These developments will spawn innovative solutions, which will become part of new healthcare products and services and, more importantly, they will be the key to a sustainable operating model of our future healthcare.

Also, we are convinced that this expansion will not be driven exclusively by a technology-push. Demand will definitely play a significant role: healthcare professionals, governments and patients, they all want a share of the benefits that these developments can bring. Pressures from a larger context, such as higher levels of chronic diseases, the escalating costs of care, and populations that live longer and want to remain active and healthy will reinforce these developments by the healthcare sector.

Despite the potential of these technologies to create a meaningful and positive contribution to people’s health and well-being for which there is a clear demand, there currently is no consistent framework to embrace and incentivize new care models based on these technologies across Europe. In that sense, we believe that Europe has not yet unlocked its full potential. In most of the EU countries, reimbursement of cost for healthcare services, accreditation and registration of healthcare professionals, liability regimes and legal rules are still very much based on the traditional (face to face) provision of healthcare.

We firmly believe that each and every one of us can play a role in ensuring that these new developments and new care models materialize. Now is the time to make the difference in this transformation. At Philips, we are very committed to be part of this transformation.

I hope you will find the above helpful and relevant. We are ready to share our experience related to the above points in greater detail should you or your services find it useful.

As a major European healthcare technology player, we fully support your drive towards the Digital Single Market for healthcare, giving European citizens what they are entitled to by the treaties: free movement, with assured good healthcare anywhere in the Union.

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