“Please go in, the doctor will see you now” has been heard by patients all over the world until recently… and then came lock-down. Now, if you’re lucky, you get a video or telephone call. In fact, the shift in the way we deliver care to patients and their families was already underway before the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID has accelerated it, removing many of the perceived barriers through necessity.
The European Patient Digital Health Awards (PDHA) celebrated innovative digital health solutions, created to meet the needs of patients. The awards provided a great platform for patients and digital entrepreneurs to come together and understand the continued transformations in the delivery of care and how to respond to evolving needs.
The winning solutions included the use of AI technology and virtual reality to help people with low vision, new imaging devices to detect skin conditions, a digital healthcare assistant for patients to manage their chronic conditions, and a solution to give near real-time feedback on the quality of care during the changes provoked by COVID-19.
Simply put, over the past 18 months, digital solutions have helped people carry on with many regular health check-ups and consultations. They have made sure that those living with long-term conditions or acute but non-serious illnesses could keep on accessing care. These solutions have become a part of our lives and won’t disappear even after the pandemic subsides.
The necessity to turn to digital tools has shown many the benefits of digitalising our healthcare systems, but also revealed some of the gaps that need filling - whether it be problems of interoperability, internet and smartphone availability, or digital literacy.
Virtual consultations, apps to encourage healthy lifestyles, diagnostic wearable devices, AI technologies and therapeutic virtual reality are here to stay. They have revolutionised care and treatment for patients, caregivers, healthcare professionals, and manufacturers.
These solutions, in addition to increasing patients’ ownership of their health, can improve patients’ understanding of their disease and the ways to manage it. They can make the patient more autonomous and independent while still having the relationship with the physician when needed.
But digital health is not only about care delivery. The collection, analysis, and appropriate use of healthcare data can also support research and development. It can help draw more accurate epidemiological mapping, gain a better understanding of how diseases affect individuals, and therefore be utilised to develop more targeted and personalised therapeutics and devices.
Moreover, digital tools can change the way we manage and organise healthcare systems. For example, they can support professionals, streamline processes, make better use of resources, and reduce costs. They can help hospital managers run hospitals better and can increase the capacity of our health systems.
Of course, there are potential pitfalls. From ethics concerns to data privacy, accessibility, and safety, these need to be addressed by working together with healthcare stakeholders. Only in this way we can understand, detect, and overcome barriers and prevent threats, to protect patients and make treatments accessible, equitable, and effective.
This is why an event like the European Patient Digital Health Awards is a step in the right direction. It is a forum where patients, industry, innovators, and regulators can come together to make sure that innovation meets the needs of people living with a medical condition and improves their quality of life in an ever-changing healthcare landscape.