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January 5, 2018

Digital health: better information to strengthen trust

We have been reading about the opportunities created by e-health for many years. We are said to live in the age of a major digital revolution. Robots, autonomous cars and diagnostic devices were supposed to change our reality without doctors’ participation. However, from the point of view of an average person, it could be said that the world hasn’t changed much in the past 10 years.

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Although our smartphones are getting thinner, our computers are faster and mobile applications revolu-tionised our communication and entertainment, it is rather a small change, compared to the breakthrough that has been expected for years. How do we read and use information about innovations in health, in the age of fake news, artificially created trends for business purposes and online freedom of expression which does not go hand-in-hand with the quality of information?

The press regularly informs us about new technological possibilities, fascinating start-up solutions and innovations developed in laboratories around the world. Futurists outline bold visions during international e-health conferences, experts discuss the future shape of healthcare systems. The perfectly outlined scripts are, from time to time, spiced up with a pinch of realism in the form of threats or challenges that e-health may face. It may seem that the big change is just around the corner, waiting to turn the whole live upside down. However, in the end, few of these predictions are applied in real solutions. Just the opposite – many of the wonderful ideas that make big entrance after a few months end up at the dump for all the faulty innovations. Many innovations cease to exist after a couple of pilot runs and in the end they are not used on a bigger scale. Does this mean that there is a bubble around e-health, of self-driven hyper-optimism?

e-health is not a short-term trend

The unknown and revolutionary – even in its assumptions – has always fascinated and provoked discus-sions. Regardless if there is a new cancer treatment method which gives a better chance of survival than the medications used so far, or a discovery in the area of genetics that requires more extensive research, with these types of information we experience the health and human life factor. This way of presenting the information attracts more interest than the business or political news because it refers to all of us or our family and friends. Although to a lesser degree than breakthrough surgeries or new medication, e-health also boosts hopes. It is perhaps less relevant to patients because the e-prescription cannot save their lives, however more relevant to healthcare professionals, management and everyone else involved in the healthcare processes. A dozen or so years ago nobody mentioned e-health, only the individual technolog-ical solutions. Only after coining that phrase it was possible to find the common denominator and, thus, create a trend. However, e-health is not a short-term trend. It is a concept that is being realised somehow in the background of the everyday healthcare reality.

After e-business and e-finance, there is the time for e-medicine. Storing information in digital form and artificial intelligence the basis for finding groundbreaking solutions that revolutionise healthcare. The temptations turned out to be bigger because, apart from financial success, it is also about the mission to help patients. This is how a bit fossilised healthcare market started changing, motivated by slow but con-sequent implementation of IT solutions to the institutions and individual telemedical solutions. The ideas surprised with creativity, and what was impossible in the analogue worlds became possible in the digital world. Monitoring health condition and parameters with the use of wearable technology, new applications for managing chronic diseases or clinical tests, diagnosis given by artificial intelligence systems that are more precise and faster – such fascinating ideas have quickly emerged to the press, making e-health a powerful but unused tool. Stories about start-ups created from scratch, small dreams, making the world better and helping the sick with the use of IT solutions are frequently discussed in the media. This is an overview of the e-health phenomenon. In the flood of information, which sometimes takes the form of chasing the thrill and persuading readers, we need to learn how to read and assess information about digi-tal transformation. These following rules may be helpful:

Data source reliability – the amount of information on the internet does not go hand-in-hand with its quality. When referring to innovations and new solutions, it is always useful to verify the knowledge in different sources. Experts’ opinions should be compared to their academic achievements or experience and their position. Seemingly objective comments may have a hidden purpose.

Scientific background – a new mobile app designed by a team of IT specialists and doctors in co-operation with a center for scientific research will probably be closer to meeting the medical knowledge standards than a new tool that measures pulse using a phone camera. Technology itself is not enough to help patients.

Certificates – if a device that measures stress levels is praised with certificates issued by international institutions, they can always be verified on these organisations’ websites. This is similar for awards.

The aureole effect – if a description of a given e-solution only includes superlatives and lacks objectivity, it is better to verify the read information.

References – previous solutions, patients’ feedback and description of solutions in the press will make promises more reliable.

Time scale – trends created with a two-year perspective are much more realistic that the ones with 20-year time horizon. Technology is changing rapidly and nowadays we are not able to predict the future. A single solution may change the rules of the game, as was the case with introducing smartphones on the market.

We cannot forget criticism and common sense – there is nothing wrong in outlining bold visions, however we do not have to assume that they are the only possible scenario. All previous technological revolutions in particular areas of business were gradual. Additionally, healthcare is a particularly conservative sector, with traditions that are difficult to change, scepticism towards new and strict regulations. E-health provides a solid basis for discussion and it is worth taking a closer look at the trends and creating our own opinion, based on hard facts.

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