The MedTech Europe blog

‘Never knowingly under sold’ is a slogan that one major UK retailer has been using more or less continuously since 1925. I have never quite understood what it means. E-heath and telemedicine have been touted as the key to disruptive change in healthcare for a very long time. I recall spending an entertaining four days in sunny Fort Lauderdale in 2002 attending the American Telemedicine Association’s annual jamboree. A casual observer would believe that telemedicine would have an almost immediate transformational impact on the structure and efficiency of healthcare systems the world over. Eight years later we are barely a step further forward although there are some indications of a tipping point being close. Yesterday Cambridge Consultants produced a survey report which certainly indicated that minds are more set on the prospect that telemedicine will indeed be transformational in the coming years.

This coincides with Commissioner Dalli’s views that e-health will be central to the agenda of DG SANCO over the next few years and, in concert with DG Information Society and DG Research, there is likely to be a substantial policy focus targeting transformation from theory into practice in this area. A plethora of conferences and seminars, driven by the major ICT companies, adds further to the sense that forces are gathering and pushing broadly in the same direction.

That said, we have been here before. The ‘hype’ is expressed in very general terms and we need to see very practical examples of how telemedicine can transform both quality and productivity of health systems. Our sector has been, is and will continue to be a rich supplier of innovations which transform the way that care can be delivered but adoption is often glacially slow. This is because vested interests, medical conservatism, fear of change and a host of reimbursement and payment systems effectively place health systems in a straight jacket. Change management and a willingness to actively and radically reform the way that care is delivered will be critical if the potential of telemedicine is to be a driver of sustainable, high quality care for our citizens.

Is telemedicine still in the ‘oversold’ phase or is it now beginning to be imbedded in a real way in the minds of those who bring about health reform? The forces of conservatism and inertia will need to be overcome if innovation in this area is not to suffer the fate of innovation in medical technology which can be characterised as long, slow and reluctant, even in the face of overwhelming and compelling evidence of value. It gets there in the end but it may not be as quick and easy as many think.

John Wilkinson

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Comments

  1. John
    You raise some very valid points but the conservatism and lack of inertia which is being seen is not necessarily just a result of a “fear of the unknown” and there is very good reason for caution.

    As the responsible health care industies continue to focus their development to allow for a patient centric approach to healthcare, patient safety rightly remains at the top of everyone’s agenda.
    There are many forums of discussion looking into timely transfer of life-critical communications, location and management of health care associated data and how we can promote coordinated care across people, functions, activities, locations and time.
    For telehealth to reach it’s potential the emerging technology must provide mechanisms to harness large amounts of data directly to and from the patient’s bedside clinic or home.

    In parallel however we must consider that whilst remote monitoring tools have the potential to allow patients to take a more active and knowledgeable role in managing their own health, interactively engaging with the health care system through such devices, this is a truly double-edged sword.

    Whilst many forward thinking health care practitioners are happy to engage in such activities with their patients, the recent explosion in software “Apps” is a good example of the hidden dangers associated with this.
    We now have widely available for sale, direct to the public, “consumer-grade” and “medical-grade” devices – but without any clear distinction between the two.
    More importantly there is little or no regulation in place to police this new emerging space.
    Without appropriate regulation of ALL devices which are positioned as being “appropriate for use in a healthcare environment” we will see a resulting exponential rise in unnecessary referral and investigations, as healthcare professionals seek accurate diagnosis to support spurious results produced by non-regulated technologies.

    Innovative new products, including and in particular those aimed at the telehealth market, must be developed with appropriate R&D, full regulatory approvals and supporting clinical evidence.
    Without this, there exists a very real risk to patient safety and the already over-burdened health care providers and services.

    Peter Robinson

  2. Dear Peter,

    Thank you for your reply. Eucomed agrees overall with the points you raise. It is indeed important that medical technology for personal care is safe in the hands of the patients who use it. In certain areas, there is still some regulatory ambiguity and Eucomed is actively engaging with the European Commission, more specifically in DG Enterprise & Industry, Information Society and Health to work on this.

    Kind regards,
    John Wilkinson
    Chief Executive Eucomed

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