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Feb 12

Jointly reliable: trust in the era of digital healthcare

Ioana Dobre

in News

Last month we visited MedTech Forum 2018 which took place in Brussels and saw hundreds of healthcare experts come together. Read our comment piece on this event that presented current challenges and future trends in the medical technology industry.

  • With more than 675,000 employees, half a million medical technologies and over 27,000 companies, the European medtech industry is facing major change, driven by factors including technological advances, new regulations, and stronger involvement of various stakeholders; particularly the increasingly active patient community.

  • Traditional healthcare models are being taken by storm, with everyone from tech giants to disruptive health start-ups exploring new ways of working. Major business ventures (for instance, the recent collaboration announced by Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan Chase), the extension of AI technology in hospitals and the idea of smartphones becoming ordinary medical devices leaves us wondering: What do all these changes mean for different stakeholders? What does it imply in terms of patient safety and data security? What’s next?

  • Increased patient safety above all

    While inflicting major costs for many organisations in the field, the new EU medical devices and in-vitro regulations aim to put in place measures including stricter pre-market scrutiny mechanisms for high-risk devices, strengthened post-market surveillance for manufacturers, and greater transparency among various stakeholders. Erik Hansson from the European Commission advised the European medtech industry to look beyond initial compliance costs and take the opportunity to reinforce its position as high-quality healthcare provider on the global arena.

    Higher patient safety is also expected to be delivered through increased data security, a theme widely explored in the conference’s parallel sessions. One debate elaborated on the challenges of the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which will come into force on 25 May 2018. Additional demands regarding the right to be forgotten and the level of consent needed for data sharing aim to give consumers (and patients) more control over their personal information.

    Data safety was also largely discussed during cybersecurity sessions. Bill Hagestad, an expert in the field, drew attention to the need for healthcare products that factor in cybersecurity principles from the very early stages of design. He also talked about the paradox of increased data security paired with increased transparency to build long-lasting trust. “Information sharing is highly recommended in the USA” he noted while encouraging more open discussions about the hackability of medical devices in the European space.

  • Collaborative models & patient empowerment in healthcare: on the rise

    The theme of increasing transparency and accountability was also present in sessions regarding patient advocacy initiatives.

    Online platforms which allow patients to share reviews on the quality of care received was one example discussed at MedTech Forum 2018. Danny Van Den Ijssel, product manager at ZorgkaartNederland explained how in the Netherlands the idea was initially met with reluctance by some doctors who feared accusatory or unfounded declarations. However, convinced of the idea that more information from and to patients was needed, ZorgkaartNederland team did not give up. Eventually, once implemented, it turned out that the majority of the reviews were positive, and robust patient engagement quickly showed benefits. This meant information could be used to anticipate challenges, speed-up admission rates and deliver trust in the system. Van Den Ijssel sees the platform as enabling patients “with their own tools to face decisions”.

    The voice of patients was also amplified by patient advocacy groups that praised the higher involvement of their subjects in unprecedented discussions about care affordability. For example, many important questions were raised during the Healthcare Technology Funding: The Role And Demands Of Patients plenary. The patient advocates talked about the healthcare price crisis, but also about responsible funding in the sector. “The environment has changed, it’s much more complex. We need to be accountable and protect our reputation no matter what.” said Marc Boutin CEO of National Health Council. The efforts to obtain higher transparency and higher rates of patient involvement in the healthcare debate must continue. “Everyone will benefit from a stronger patient advocacy” concluded Francesco Florindi, one of the panellists.

  • Disruptive medicine: what’s here and what we’re just not ready for

    A main theme discussed was the tremendous technological and organisational disruptions in healthcare. For instance, Ali Parsa’s talk, Powering A Health Service On Artificial Intelligence, showed a concrete example of using smartphones as medical devices. The UK-based entrepreneur (and UCL alumni) expressed his vision on how AI can lead to less errors in clinical settings. Babylon, the integrated digital healthcare system Parsa created, can check your symptoms, book doctors appointments and help you manage your health by creating a “digital twin”. The future of healthcare delivery models is here.

  • For Ben Maruthappu, CERA founder, NHS Innovation Accelerator Co-founder and Public Health Specialty Registrar at UCL, the key innovative solutions to watch come in pairs: Genomics and Personalised Medicine; Data and Digital; Hardware and Wearables. While urging medtech innovators to think outside the box in terms of reimbursement of their products, he also reinforced some important challenges of today’s healthcare provision: balancing personalised medicine and consistency of care, solving the digital divide and balancing data access with data security.

    Questions such as what financial tools would be appropriate to make healthcare affordable or how soon blockchain technology will affect the healthcare sector were also addressed on multiple occasions during the conference. Reminders that we’re not moving as fast as we should and, on the other hand, that we’re just not ready yet for some of the world’s experimental innovations were equally presented. Medtech industry is expected and encouraged to innovate, as long as it does so in a responsible way and its products are affordable for those who need them most.

    In our healthcare engineering research field, we’re building stronger collaborations with various stakeholders through robust and close partnerships with hospitals and industry. We also promote wider patient participation through a multitude of patient and public engagement activities and strive for transparency by providing open resources to the entire community. We hope these efforts will help us develop and deliver a higher number of cutting-edge technologies to as many patients as possible.

    If you’d like to see and read more highlights from the event, you can visit MedTech Forum website here.