The scale and complexity of healthcare needs have increased because of ageing populations and an emphasis on personalised healthcare, and the pandemic further accelerated the expectation that many patients have for care as and when they need it.
But what does the future hold, and how is digital health revolutionising European healthcare?
Europe is home to some of the most cutting-edge and innovative healthcare systems in the world.
Finland’s FinData, for example, is a first-of-its-kind national permit authority for the secondary use of health and social data.
A key element of Europe’s approach to healthcare is patient-centricity – digital solutions are taking root in Europe as a method to make healthcare more equitable, ethical, and accessible.
One current area of focus has been the security and privacy of healthcare data, in line with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), though there is a lot of work required to facilitate more secure systems for large, complex datasets.
The main types of digital health technologies currently vary by region.
For example, electronic health records (EHRs) are the most commonly used, ranging from 97% in the Netherlands to 74% in Portugal.
More significant differences can be seen in areas such as e-prescribing, which ranges from 97% in the Netherlands to 13% in Germany.
The more cutting-edge technology that is often making headlines for pushing innovation in the industry is even rarer, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and genomics.
Currently, the most significant barriers to digital transformation in European healthcare are digital literacy (of patients and staff), privacy and security processes, and comprehensive standards for consent and data storage.
How is digital health set to revolutionise European healthcare?
A trending topic in the industry for some time, patient access to healthcare has been accelerated considerably by digital transformation.
At a time when Europe is attempting to account for an ageing population and the rising incidence of chronic diseases and co-morbidities, the need for greater personalisation and proactivity has increased drastically.
It’s estimated that by 2030, 25% of the European Union’s population will be aged 65 and over (up from 19% in 2015), and from 2018 to 2040, the incidence of cancer is predicted to increase by 23%.
The pandemic highlighted that patient care could take place outside of traditional settings and increase access to care.
Digital transformation is integral to this.
Remote monitoring (e.g., wearables) can help to identify healthcare needs of traditionally less accessible populations, and data sharing could lead to universal access to the tools to achieve better health outcomes.
Areas of digital transformation, such as genomics, have drastic implications for personalised medicine and care.
Firstly, the technology enabling personalised medicine can not only address key areas of European healthcare, such as old age and chronic disease, but it can also manage costs by improving treatment, empowering patients to monitor their own health status, and causing a shift from the trial-and-error approach to current treatment.
The biomarkers at the centre of personalised medicine offer the opportunity to inform drug discovery and development like never before, rather than relying on a one size fits all approach that can often result in recalls and restrictions.
Secondly, personalised care plans can have a huge impact on the success of patient compliance in personalised interventions (e.g., remote monitoring devices that can collect longitudinal data and facilitate follow-ups by healthcare professionals).
A shift from a reactive model has been slow but significant in European healthcare, with a focus on areas such as AI to make personalised interventions.
Predictive algorithms that are informed by data from remote monitoring devices can help the prevention of chronic diseases and the slowing of their progression.
A more patient-centric approach is also becoming a priority, and preventative care through the use of technology such as wearables and AI gives patients a greater sense of ownership towards improving their health.
Big data, however, has the potential to be the largest contributor to preventative care – big data analytics can help clinicians to identify the most high-risk patients and provide them with the necessary treatment before their condition worsens.
In short, healthcare providers can use insights from big data to make data-backed, proactive decisions when it comes to patient care.
Clinical trials in Europe have often been hindered by limited population size and representation of patients.
Whilst the pandemic influenced a shift to decentralised trials, it is likely that this trend will continue to evolve due to the need to increase the diversity of data when developing life-saving treatments.
Digital technologies can help innovate clinical trials by minimising barriers to participation through wearables and telemedicine, consequently increasing the diversity of data for underrepresented populations (e.g., the elderly or those in remote areas).
Research indicates that decentralised clinical trials improve data quality by 41%, recruitment of participants by 43%, retention by 32%, and time savings by 39%.
Decentralisation offers a real opportunity to innovate the clinical trial space for the better.
Digital health isn’t slowing down.
In fact, as time goes on, it’s likely that there will be even more ways to innovate healthcare in Europe as more businesses opt for digital solutions to improve areas such as clinical trials, drug development, and accessibility.
The main area of focus for European healthcare will be putting in place systems and security for data protection and ensuring that digital health has comprehensive standards.
The digitalised future of European life sciences will undoubtedly change the market as more businesses look to find those with the skills to help innovate healthcare further, which makes it more essential than ever before for businesses to find the right recruitment partner for their needs.
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