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EU-wide Telehealth Strategy

Submitted by on 09 Mar 2012 – 15:21

EU-wide Telehealth Strategy

EU-wide Telehealth StrategyAddressing Market and Take-up Barriers

Silas Olsson, HealthAccess, Sweden

Background and context

The traditional way of deliver healthcare, the physical face-to-face meeting between the doctor and the patient, is not sustainable for “everyday healthcare delivery” and is not anymore the preferred way by the emerging group of demanding patients and relatives. Why, because healthcare systems cannot economically sustain the increase in demand if not changing the way of deliver, and the “new” patients (young and old) and relatives will not accept not to use everyday information and communication technology available to the public, for consulting, stay in contact, monitoring, getting advices and being coached, and to overall interact with healthcare.

The society is changing, the ongoing demographic change, “the ageing society”, with a substantial increase of older persons in the population of Europe (and in the industrialized world), is changing the panorama of health and diseases. The volume of persons suffering from chronic health conditions and diseases are increasing. Although no cure is available, the healthcare, luckily, can deliver means for well-functioning of most of such patients, being at the working-place, on the move, at home in the family or in the society at large.

The society, including healthcare systems, is also transforming due to information and communication technologies including mobile technologies (ICT). The healthcare is adopting ICT in e.g. administrations, for medical records, advanced medical devices, and step-by-step, however slowly, also for telehealth, telecare and telemedicine.

Although there are no international clear definitions of telehealth, telecare and telemedicine, in this paper, to be brief, the focus of “telehealth” means the communications and interactions between healthcare professionals and patients & relatives, to be differentiated to “telecare” which focuses on the interaction between patients & relatives and care and social care support professionals and systems, and “telemedicine” which focuses on doctor-to doctor consultations and interactions. There are overlaps between the definitions.


Ample of opportunities – slow take-up

A vast amount of projects during the latest 20 years, from almost all over the world, have shown the usefulness and the efficiency of telehealth on project levels. However, there are many reasons why take-up of telehealth is slow (although healthy niche markets exist) including proof-of-quality-at-scale, proof-of-safety-at scale, proof-of-effectiveness-at-scale, standardization and interoperability issues, lacking business models, reimbursements issues, legal and responsibility issues, and evidences about overall at scale economy impact in different healthcare models and systems. In addition, one decisive factor is that telehealth is a so called disruptive technology. This means that to fully utilize the benefits offered by telehealth, implementation requires change in processes, work-habit’s, work-flow-of-patients, money-flow patterns, financial schemes including reimbursements, organizations and/or on system level. Therefore, policy settings and cross-sector leadership are required to make this change happen.

It is clear that healthcare systems are not in pace to match the needs of a changing society and are not taking-up the possibilities enabled by ICT including mobile technologies offered under the umbrella of telehealth. On the other hand, it is also clear that the research and innovation communities and industry, have not yet delivered the evidences, showcases, experiences and hard facts needed for policy makers and decision makers to embrace and accept the cross-sector leadership needed to change the way healthcare is delivering.

Europe should speed up the efforts to remove barriers to the market for telehealth solutions to better serve the need of the society of today. In addition, there is a potential forthcoming huge market in Europe and internationally, for innovative telehealth applications. Industry in Europe should not be left behind in the international race to develop and refine such competitive and innovative solutions, which also is about growth and creation of new jobs.


Show cases and evidences at scale are needed

To address and work to remove market barriers and to speed up creation of the framework needed for telehealth to be broadly taken-up by markets and users, European initiatives are needed. Areas were further such works are needed include:

  • Standardization and interoperability
  • Legal and responsibility issues (devices and services)
  • Show cases at scale (quality, effectiveness and economy evidences)
  • Show cases at scale addressing disruptive technology challenges
  • Show cases addressing financial incitements and reimbursements issues
  • Show cases with innovative telehealth solutions, taking into account the issues and concerns in the above bullet points, for applications relevant for the ageing society and persons with chronic health conditions and diseases, with an integrated care approach.

Clear evidences from such work, as suggested above, will significantly contribute to the base of knowledge needed for policy makers and decision makers to decide to initiate the cross-sector leadership needed to change the healthcare delivery by broadly introducing telehealth.



Silas Olsson


Stockholm, Sweden

Email: silas.olsson@healthaccess.eu

Mobile: +46-70-5800901.