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E-health: what benefits for patients?

21.06.2018 by Gaël Matendo
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Vincent Keunen, founder, and CEO of Andaman7 gave the website www.digitalwallonia.be its vision of e-health. We reproduce here the content of this article.

What is e-health?

E-health or digital health covers the use of tools and digital data for promoting health. This field covers in particular:

  • The system of refunds and prescriptions (e-prescription);
  • The results of medical examinations (biopsies, medical imaging ...);
  • Exchanges of information between doctors, hospitals or health networks;
  • Data and services provided by health and well-being applications, connected devices (activity sensors, blood pressure monitors, scales, glucose meters, etc.) or telemedicine devices.

The digitization of healthcare materializes in particular by a growth in the mass of available digital data (Big Data) and its possible uses, especially in terms of diagnosis, research, and prevention.

A better-informed patient

Whether it's the Internet or mobile health apps, today's patient can be much better informed than he was yesterday. Certainly selecting the most reliable medical information or the most useful applications is not always easy, as the mass of data or tools is important. It's a fact: patients are now better able to understand the information they need for their health and to make informed choices, this is known as Health Literacy. This is especially true for patients with rare conditions. Today, the informed patient can end up learning more than the doctor who meets this patient for the first time.

A more independent patient

The digitalization of health care paves the way for truly patient-centered medicine. This trend is in line with physicians who want their patients to take a more active role in their treatment, particularly through rigorous application of the prescribed treatment. It is also a reflection of a growing proportion of patients seeking active participation in the treatment of their disease. They want more information, to find a form of control over their disease and discuss the treatment that is prescribed, it is what is called empowerment, as some would say in French. Several studies show that a patient who is kept informed regularly and in detail about his illness and the treatments he receives enjoys significant clinical benefits, particularly in terms of quality of life. Of course, this approach implies, on the one hand, a patient's interest in active management and, on the other hand, more time to be given to patients by the doctors. The use of digital tools facilitates this approach by promoting patient/doctor dialogue to optimize treatment. Some solutions make it possible, like Andaman7, for everyone to build their own portable medical file, to enrich it with useful information (test results, vaccines, allergies, family history, and data from connected objects). This file can be consulted at any time and shared synchronously with the health professional of his choice.

A better-followed patient

Today, the quality of life of patients (fatigue, appetite, social life, pain ...) is still poorly monitored by care teams. This return most often takes place only during medical visits and generally only reflects the two or three days preceding the consultation. We quickly forget the details of the weeks and months that precede... Digital tools will make it possible to go beyond the consideration of clinical results alone to open up to information reported by patients. This will give the doctors a better picture of the symptoms of the disease and its experience for better treatment.

A patient better cared for at home

Now is the time to shorten hospital stays. For budgetary and/or quality of life reasons, early discharges or home care are more and more often favored. Home care monitoring is often a headache for caregivers and hospitals. Today, thanks to new technologies, a patient’s progress can be followed at home as at the hospital. We speak of "care path", which includes both intra-muros and extra-muros, with solutions like Awell Health for example. Mobile applications offer, for example, the possibility of creating a common gateway for all home care and support professionals (doctors, nurses, physiotherapists ...) for better information sharing and better monitoring. They also offer the possibility of recording the patient's clinical parameters via connected devices and making these results available to the doctor or a specialized monitoring center operating 24 hours a day.

A better-equipped doctor

The growing complex nature of medicine has become a challenge for healthcare providers. No doctor or specialist can claim today to know all developments in his area of ​​expertise. Here again, the use of digital tools offers a solution by allowing the use of reliable sources of information and diagnostic assistance. There is, for example, the case of the OncoDEEP tool developed by OncoDNA. Through targeted or complete sequencing of tumor-derived DNA, oncologists can fine-tune their medical follow-up or choose a treatment based on the genomic profile of the patient's tumor.

The challenge of medical data

In theory, Belgian patients already have access to their medical information. In practice, only a few hospitals actually give access to this data. Ultimately, however, this information will have to be legally available, as provided by Minister Maggie De Block and the GDPR, effective May 25. The terms of access vary by region. Several concepts coexist within the European space and in other regions of the world. Some initiatives are aimed at centralizing data in one place. Others plan to give access to medical data which was gotten from various sources (this is the notion of "federated networks" created by projects such as the Insite de Custodix or the Belgian health networks). "Centralized" solutions, however, raise questions about security and respect for privacy. Hence the trend towards more decentralized solutions such as federated networks or mobile applications that do not store their data in the cloud. Many centralized solutions also do not allow the patient to have a copy of his personal information and to have any real health data.

Today, technical solutions exist and governance rules are clear. Good practices are known to all. But there is always a good resistance to change and a tendency to love to be afraid ... or scare others.
But when everyone works in the interest of the patient, the contributions of technology allows us to leap forward in health. We can all overcome our limitations with the proper use and integration of technology and perhaps, in future, artificial intelligence.

Beautiful times we live in! May we live long, and in good health!

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