The potential benefits of eHealth are not disputed. Freed from the burden of paper files, advocates envision a world where patients are empowered with access to their own records where healthcare facilities are interconnected, sharing everything from patient records and diagnostic images to operating room bookings and accounting platforms.
The resulting system would not only be patient-centric in its approach, it would also deliver a cost-effective way of building the capacity of health systems, both in the developed and developing worlds. In some cases, this metamorphosis could not come too soon.
Facing an era of greater financial austerity and rising healthcare costs, many governments and health systems are now taking a closer look at eHealth as a sustainable way to deliver cost savings, better patient outcomes and greater accessibility of healthcare for all.
There is certainly anecdotal evidence that patients are ready for eHealth’s benefits. Beyond the ultra-tech-savvy early adopters, many baby boomers are also technologically adept and, as they retire and come into greater contact with the health and social care systems, they are increasingly taking a greater role in their own healthcare decisions. These consumers already bank and book holidays online, and are starting to ask why they can’t book doctor’s appointments and review health information in the same way.
Already we are seeing patients take greater control of their medical information and data. PatientsLikeMe.com, a patient-driven health site that leverages social media approaches to connect patients suffering from similar conditions, already has more than 120,000 members. But with greater patient empowerment in controlling their data will come additional responsibilities. Patients will need to support the accessibility of their data and permit the transfer of their personal health information throughout the patient pathway if they are to enjoy the full benefits of eHealth.
There are a number of common bottlenecks to eHealth and – from the outset – eHealth promoters and advocates will need to manage expectations, since long, complex change programs tend to lose momentum as time passes. Moreover, some eHealth objectives – particularly a significant improvement in patient health – may take years to achieve, making it all the more important that funders, patients and healthcare professionals share the same long-term vision. And while demand from healthcare professionals may build slowly, the profession is recognizing the potential clinical benefits of having the whole patient record at their fingertips. As a new generation of medical professionals gains seniority in healthcare practices, demand and acceptance will sharply increase.
Around the world, we have seen plenty of pilot programs, but often there is a lack of clear vision on how to properly adopt eHealth in the clinical setting; an issue that urgently needs addressing. Indeed, in our experience, healthcare professionals start to become voracious users of eHealth systems as they begin to see the clinical and efficiency benefits that a well-designed system can deliver.