Monday, 20 August 2012

Improving health through online services

Summer holiday of the EU allows me to catch up with certain EU consumer policies that I have missed previously this year. I thought I would share with my readers, the results of the Citizen Panel Survey that assess the patients' needs and expectations regarding the ICT for health. The internet can be used for health in many ways and forms, e.g.: EU citizens may consult the internet to find out more about a certain disease, they may download an application on their smartphones showing e.g. how many pollens are there in the air influencing their allergies, they could receive their prescriptions online, etc.

The European Commission placed the area of eHealth on the Digital Agenda with an aim to improve the health status and quality of life of Europeans. On the basis of the results of the survey, the EU institutions hope to develop typologies of digital healthcare users and measure the impact of the ICT and the internet on health status, health care demand and health management. The other goal is to identify factors that could either enhance or inhibit the role and use of Personal Health Systems from a citizen's perspective. The online survey was conducted in 2011 among EU citizens from 14 Member States (1000 per country), aged from 16 to 74 years (using the internet at least sporadically).

The sampled citizens use the ICT in health for following reasons:
  • 39% - to better understand a health problem or disease;
  • 36% - to find additional sources of information;
  • 35% - to develop knowledge;
  • 35% - to develop personal satisfaction;
  • 31% - to help a family member/friend who is ill;
  • 28% - to prevent illness or adopt a more healthy lifestyle;
  • 28% - to find a solution to or a treatment for a health problem;
  • 22% - to obtain different points of view about an issue;
  • 21% - to access online health service;
  • 11% - to participate in online discussions.
"With respect to the socio-demographic characteristics of the population, the perception of the importance of ICT in health as triggers is much more positive for women, young people, the middle aged, those with a tertiary education, the employed, students, and people in a bad state of health or with long standing illnesses." (p. 15)

As far as the barriers to use the ICT for health are concerned, the following have been mentioned:
  • 52% - lack of privacy;
  • 51% - lack of security;
  • 47% - lack of reliability;
  • 46% - lack of trust;
  • 38% - lack of liability;
  • 36% - lack of health literacy;
  • 33% - lack of knowledge;
  • 29% - lack of access to ICTs for health;
  • 28% - lack of motivation and interest;
  • 24% - lack of digital skills.
The survey showed also how rarely Europeans participate in ICT for health, e.g.:
  • 56% - have never bought medicine or vitamins online;
  • 60% - have never participate in online support groups for people with the same health issue;
  • 58% - have never used social networking sites for health and wellness issues;
  • 58% - have never used email or website to communicate with a doctor;
  • 52% - have never analysed the privacy policy for personal information in medicinal websites;
  • 79% - have never made an online consultation through videoconference with healthcare professionals;
  • 75% - have not received medical or clinical tests online;
  • 77% - have not accessed or uploaded medical results via a specialist provider (e.g. Google Health or Microsoft Vault);
  • 76% - have not accessed or uploaded medical results via an internet application provided by a health organisation;
  • 76.6% - have not used health or wellness applications on mobile telephones.
It seems, therefore, that the use of the ICT in health services is still significantly limited. However, as the study states it shows the "potential of ICT for Health to promote active and healthy individuals and increase empowerement". Not surprisingly, the EU citizens are more likely to consult the internet in order to find more information about their or others illness (after all, most of us turn to the internet as a huge encyclopedia). It is likely that a common issue with obtaining many e-services: the lack of trust in its privacy, security and reliability, stops the EU citizens from relying more heavily on eHealth services, e.g., when they would have to reveal their medical information online (even though 55% state that they would share their personal health information with their doctor online despite privacy issue). Still, this is something that the EU institutions should work on, since the improvement of eHealth services could lead to saving of time and travel costs for many citizens, as well as improve the options for EU citizens to take care of themselves.

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