ICT and healthcare -
An overview on the future of healthcare
Healthcare has become one of the most important application areas for information and communication technologies. Ageing, diseases of civilisation and increasing treatment costs expose the healthcare systems in all industrialised countries to heavy financial and organisational pressure. At the same time, many citizens are becoming more health-conscious and are interested in ways for increasing their well-being beyond the absence of diseases. ICT is crucial for addressing these challenges and achieving more efficient healthcare.
The European society is ageing. The share of elderly people in the total population will rise dramatically in the next decades. From 2005 to 2030 the number of people in the age group 65+ will rise by 52 % or 40 million, while the age group of 15-64 will decrease by about 7 % or 20,8 million. According to the EC Green Paper “Confronting demographic change”, the total EU-25 population is expected to grow from 450 million in 2000 to 470 million in the year 2025. After this, the population is likely to decrease to 449 million in 2050.
The new age composition of the European society will place high demands on the health and long-term care sector, which will inevitably result in rising costs. Since 1997, health spending in proportion to the gross domestic product has been has been accelerating among the OECD countries. In 2002, the cumulative health spending of 24 OECD countries was $2.7 trillion. PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates that health spending for OECD countries will more than triple to $10 trillion by 2020. In Europe, healthcare expenditure has already reached an average share of 8.5% of the GDP and is rising faster than the overall economic growth. According to the Economist (28 April 2005) it is estimated that redundancy and inefficiency account for 25-40% of the $3.3 trillion spent worldwide on healthcare every year.
In order to limit the cost explosion and to be able to serve the needs of a growing number of elderly people, healthcare systems in Europe need to become more effective and efficient. Apart from organisational and regulatory reforms, the use of ICT can be one of the main drivers for higher efficiency and effectiveness in the healthcare sector.
ICT application areas
There are three main areas in which ICT can
help to make healthcare more effective and efficient beyond solutions which
are already available:
Management of healthcare
ICT can improve the management of healthcare in many ways. One important area is information management in hospitals. This includes RFID-based equipment tracking and patient tracking in hospitals, workflow improvements, and interoperable electronic health records.
Enabled by ICT, medical treatment and monitoring of patients with chronic diseases will be moved more and more out of hospitals and doctors’ practices into the private realm of the patient. Wearable health monitoring systems and applications like automated medication reminders at home will provide ubiquitous, personalised health support to patients while reducing the cost for medical treatment in hospitals and doctors’ practices.
ICT will become ever more important in enabling healthy people and people with health risks to sustain or improve their well-being. Wearable health monitoring applications like, for example, the dietary monitoring system and the BackManager, which are presented in this issue of Eurescom mess@ge, will provide citizens the opportunity to be their own health manager and take care of their well-being in a self-determined way, while benefiting from the competent monitoring and advice from a tele-doctor.
Innovative ICT solutions in the areas mentioned above are very likely to be based on advancements towards ubiquitous and personalised network access and the miniaturisation and connectivity of devices. New or improved equipment might be used for enhancing healthcare, such as miniaturised and cheaper electronics and sensors, high-density memory, micro-electromechanical systems, and novel combinations of existing devices.
The decreasing cost and size of sensors, monitors and other equipment enables both novel uses for existing technologies and applications of completely new technologies. The increasing bandwidth and pervasiveness of communication networks, including ad-hoc and sensor networks, opens up new opportunities for transferring medical information faster through both wired and wireless systems.
The healthcare sector could benefit tremendously by adopting and adapting the latest advances in ICT, which will improve the quality of healthcare. At the same time society and patients could benefit from the cost-reducing effects of ICT, which will make high-quality healthcare available to everyone at affordable costs.
However, ICT can only unfold its positive effects on healthcare systems, if technological innovations go hand in hand with improved processes and structural reforms in national healthcare systems.
Please send us your comments on this article.