Executive Summary

Digital health tools are rapidly emerging into the market and we would like to get an understanding of its implication on the healthcare and life sciences industry, and how they can start preparing for the transition towards digitalization. The article looks into 3 examples of eHealth tools, namely:

  1. Wearable devices like Apple Watch and Fitbit have changed the way we manage our health.
  2. Digital tools like mySugr & Asthma Sense are providing alternative options for patients suffering from chronic conditions.
  3. Digital platforms like Meditech are simplifying the way our health data can be shared.

Within EU, regulators are pushing steadily towards the digitalization of the healthcare sector. 3 key priorities have been set in the area of eHealth:

  1. Provide the possibility for patients to securely access their health data and the means for health providers to exchange that data across EU.
  2. Use the pool of health data for research and personalized medicines on a voluntary basis.
  3. Use of digital tools and data for citizen empowerment and person-centered care

Healthcare and life sciences organizations need to understand that these developments has a large impact on its business continuity and success. From an industry point of view, we have seen companies take steps towards adopting innovative solutions. For example, Astellas US LLC has recently announced a new collaboration with WiserCare, a company that develops healthcare decision support solutions, to improve patient communication and care plan by integrating patient feedback. It is safe to say that the industry does see the value of many of these innovations and with the reinforcement of regulators advocating for the adaptation and supply these digital tools, it is likely that this is the way industry will move towards.

Although the road towards digitalization is a long one, it is important for organizations to start preparing in order to mitigate its impact as much as possible. You begin by building a strong foundation that would provide you with the leverage to innovate. This foundation we are talking about is your data, systems, processes and governance. In addition to these foundations, common standards and data security will further ease the acceptance and adaption of new tools and technologies.

My name is Lunyan Zhu and I have been working in the Life Sciences industry for some years now. I have seen the rather slow acceptation of changes in this industry. It is vital to catch up with these innovative developments, because some of the innovations can be disruptive to the industry and therefore should not be ignored by any means. In order to keep you informed of the latest industry developments, I will be publishing monthly blog articles on key developments that are crucial for the future development of your business and ways you could mitigate the impact of these changes on your organization.

If you have any comments or you want more information, contact me on Lunyan.zhu@iperion.nl.

Introduction

© iconimage / stock.adobe.com

eHealth is the latest trend that is believed to transform the future of healthcare. The term eHealth or digital health and care refers to tools and services that leverage on information and communication technologies (ICTs) to improve prevention, diagnosis, treatment, monitoring and management of health and lifestyle.  In this article, a few examples of eHealth tools are provided to give you a little taste of the kind of innovations that will likely become mainstream within healthcare and life sciences. In addition, I have outlined the activities of the EU regulators in the area of eHealth. Lastly, I concluded why such developments (both from industry and regulators) are important for you as a life sciences organization.

Examples of eHealth Tools

In the past years, several eHealth tools (i.e. devices, apps, solutions, platforms) emerged in the market. Below are a few examples of that:

1. Meditech – Enterprise Health Record

Meditech is an Enterprise Health Record (EHR) vendor that provides a platform for users to create their own EHR apps. Via these apps users and health care providers can access their electronic heath records (EHRs). To some degree or another, our health information is stored electronically by one or more healthcare providers, but this information is often duplicated, due to the use of different systems by different providers. What many you have personally encountered is that whenever you go to a new provider, you are surely going to be asked for information of you and your health records. This is rather inconvenient not only for us but also for the healthcare providers. They need to spend unnecessary resources collecting  data that is readily available elsewhere and us patients must repeatedly answer the same questions from different healthcare providers. Now imagine a central place where our health records can be stored and readily retrieved in a safe and secure manner. Meditech is one of the many available tools that can provide a solution to this. It does not only save time and resources, but most importantly, in emergency situations it may be able to save lives.

2. Wearable devices – Fitbit and Apple Watch

 

 

By now, we have all heard of Fitbit and Apple Watch, wearable devices accompanied with mobile apps that monitors a user’s daily activities, heart rate, nutrition intake, weight and sleep. The data collected from these devices provides users with a good insight of their health status and whether intervention from healthcare providers are needed. A more fascinating aspect of Apple Watch is its ability to detect health deterioration, such as heart failure and its capability to alert emergency services nearby once the user becomes unresponsive after a fall. Fitbit and Apple Watch are great examples of tools that allow users to take health into their own hands. However, their benefits go far beyond a simple health monitoring tool. These wearable devices collect massive amount of data daily, which can be a great tool to collect data during clinical trials in real time, which can be a cumbersome task. In addition, data collected from these devices can be further analyzed and used to prevent health deterioration or diseases, to develop personalized medicines or personalized care. When used properly, these wearables have a great potential to transform the way health can be dealt with on a personalized basis.

3. App-based tools for people suffering from chronic diseases – mySugr & Asthma Sense

 

mySugr is an app-based solution that monitors the level of blood glucose, allowing users suffering from diabetes to have better long term control of their chronic conditions. The app also provides estimated HbA1c results, which shows how well the diabetes is being controlled and such test results can also be shared with doctors. Along the same lines, Asthma Sense is a tool that helps people manage their asthma. Tools such as mySugr and Astehma Sense have been revolutionary for patients suffering from chronicle diseases. It provides them with the leverage to control their conditions, reducing the number of admissions to health centers, which in the long run reduces the overall cost of care.

The above examples are only the tip of the iceberg, as more innovations are being developed as we speak. However, as appealing and innovative as these tools can be, they also have their flaws, whether it is limited usability, safety, security or interoperability. Among these flaws, interoperability is one that requires a lot of work from both industry and regulators. Thus far, innovations are being developed in isolation, which depletes its full potential and usability. Therefore, it is desirable to incorporate such innovations into the healthcare organizations in an interoperable way in order to reach their full potential. In order to do so, organizations need to realize that innovation is not only needed but desirable. The road to interoperable digital healthcare is a long one that requires a digital ecosystem and common standards. This is where the regulators can play a major role.

 

eHealth in the EU

 

One of the European Commission’s (EC) ten priority policy area is to create a Digital Single Market (DSM), and make the move towards a digital economy. The aim of the DSM is to reduce the digital barriers, through interoperability and standardization to boost the competitiveness in the EU market. Digital health is part of this ambitious goal.

The EC released the above infographic on eHealth detailing their goals and actions. Based on inputs from a public consultation held between July and August 2017, the European Commission set out three main priorities for eHealth:

 

 

1. Provide the possibility for patients to securely access their health data and the means for health providers to exchange that data across EU.

In order to access and exchange health data, a digital ecosystem needs to be in place. For that, the EU eHealth Network was set up and a common ICT infrastructure, the eHealth Digital Service Infrastructure (eHDSI or eHealth DSI) is being set up for cross-border health data exchange. Patient Summary and ePrescription are the current use cases of the eHDSI and such digital services are being progressively introduced in all EU member states. For instance, as of the beginning of this year, Finnish patients are able to go to a pharmacy in Estonia and pick up medicine prescribed electronically by their doctor in Finland.

The eHealth Network also does a lot in terms of interoperability and standardization. For instance, to move towards interoperable EHRs in EU, the commission and the member states are currently in the process of developing the European EHR exchange format. In addition, the EC has planned to launch an integrated standardization plan to identify and define key priorities for standardization to facilitate the exchange of health data.

Information security is a key concern when it comes to exchange personal health data, a widely shared concern for any digital tool that deals with personal information. Currently in the EU, we have the General Data Protection Regulation. However, on top of that, the EC is also working to assist the member states and healthcare organizations to meet the requirements set out in the Directive on Security of Network and Information systems to further equip them to tackle the concerns of information security. Additionally, the European Union Agency for Network and Information Security (EANIS) has launched the eHealth security experts group to provide recommendations to hospitals and healthcare organizations to mitigate the risks of cyber-attacks.

2. Use the pool of health data for research and personalized medicines on a voluntary basis.

Here again, the Commission’s role will be to ensure information security is not breached. Generally, the idea to repurpose health data is in line with the current industry trend, leveraging on new technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Big Data and Machine Learning to maximize the use of available data (whether structured or unstructured). For example, BenevolentAI, who uses AI to interpret molecular processes associated with specific diseases and then pairs drug treatments with the proper patients. The idea itself is rather genius, the fact that you can use patient data to better serve the patients. If this way of thinking persists, personalized medicines is more than likely to happen and perhaps faster than we think!

3. Use of digital tools and data for citizen empowerment and person-centered care.

As demonstrated in the above examples, digital tools are certainly useful, and they are revolutionizing the way patients take control over their own health. For example, the EHR apps that can be created using Meditech’s platform. It does not only provide users with the ultimate freedom to access and share their EHRs, but also the leverage to do what they want with their information. Therefore, by integrating these innovations into the healthcare ecosphere, it will further drive the industry toward patient-centered care. To advocate digital-based solutions, the Commission aims to provide public funding, as well as facilitate the supply of these digital solutions.

Why is this important for you?

Evidence and market trends suggest eHealth tools are slowly but surely creeping into the healthcare industry and we will see more of it once the industry becomes increasingly digitalized. From the initiatives set up by the EC, it appears that they are rather adamant about the digitalization of the healthcare sector and the EU market in general. Therefore, we should expect to see a steady transformation of the healthcare industry. In fact, a few pharmaceutical companies have already made this move. For example, Astellas US LLC has recently announced a new collaboration with WiserCare, a company that develops healthcare decision support solutions, to improve patient communication and care plan by integrating patient feedback. Another example is AstraZeneca, whom began a long-term collaboration with BenevolentAI to incorporate artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning for the discovery and development of new treatments.

So why is this important for you? Whether you are a small, medium or large pharmaceutical, biopharmaceutical or healthcare company, it is essential for you to set a solid foundation amid this inevitable transformation towards digitalization within the industry. The foundation we are talking about here is made up of the following factors:

  1. Data
  2. Systems
  3. Processes
  4. Data governance
  5. Standards
  6. Data security

Essentially it all comes down to the management of your data, which leverages on the processes, systems, governance and standards for the transfer and exchange of information. Another large concern is data security which also needs to be readily dealt with. In order to prepare your organization for the digital transformation, these 6 fundamental factors need to be adequately embedded within your organization. Without it, your organization will not be mature enough to handle the change, whether that is due to poor data management, outdated systems, inefficient process or poor data governance. The good news is that, there is time to fix all of that and we are here to help you.

With more than 14 years of experience in the life sciences industry, Iperion provides client-tailored services for each market segment in the life sciences industry when it comes to information management, system implementation/update, process (re)design, (re)establish data governance, standards implementation.  We pride ourselves by the quality of our services and our pragmatic approach. We like to think together with our clients in finding the right solution to their needs and create added value to their organizations. If you believe we are the one you have been looking for, please reach out to us via info@iperion.nl.

 

Author: Lunyan Zhu
Business Analyst at Iperion
Email: Lunyan.zhu@iperion.nl