Written by Mar Negreiro,
Coronavirus has accelerated the rise of digital health, a broad concept that includes solutions for telemedicine and teleconsultation, remote monitoring, connected devices, digital health platforms and health apps. The concept also covers the related health data analysis and application in systems based on big data, for instance for epidemiological research and AI-enabled diagnosis support.
Digital technologies are becoming critical in the fight against the ongoing pandemic. They have been used, among other things, for online medical consultations from home and for increasing efficiency in diagnosis and treatment of patients through telemedicine, which, like teleworking and online education, has been a novel experience for many.
Likewise health workers have been using digital technology to diagnose the virus. For instance, China has developed new e-health apps allowing patients to assess their Covid-19 symptoms remotely. Patients with existing critical illnesses, reluctant to go to hospital because of the risk of contracting the virus, have been able to get online consultations from home and have in some cases been monitored remotely. Moreover, thanks to the availability of digital health records and e‑prescriptions in many EU countries, it has been possible to issue repeat prescriptions remotely, limiting unnecessary contact between doctors and patients and reducing the chances of exposure to the virus.
Nevertheless, there are many challenges to overcome as advances in digitalisation of healthcare come with drawbacks. They highlight a widening ‘digital divide’ that risks leaving behind the elderly and socially disadvantaged, who are less able to master or afford the technology. In addition, liability, reimbursement and cybersecurity issues are among the other key challenges that need to be considered, as cyber-attacks on hospitals are on the rise. Meanwhile, the transfer of personal health data is fuelling a debate over who owns and controls that data, raising questions over individuals’ rights to privacy. What is clear is that digital health is here to stay.
Read the complete briefing on ‘The rise of digital health technologies during the pandemic‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.