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Enabling technologies in eHealth
26 May 2010

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Europe and the US may have very different ways of funding health, but they have much in common, too. A new program is exploring what we might learn from each other.

The capacity of information and communication technology (ICT) often runs ahead of the ability of organisations to absorb it. The reasons for this stretch from technical barriers, such as incompatibility with existing systems, to the need to reshape processes, and on to straightforward cultural resistance to change.

Yet there are many positive role models on both sides of the Atlantic that illustrate the transformative power of ICT. Microsoft has initiated a high-level research programme to search out and highlight the potential of ICT in healthcare, the low-carbon economy, education, and government and governance.

The programme, called Enabling Technologies, is managed by Professor Dan Hamilton from Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore. “The idea is to appoint academic experts to look at each of these four fields and consider the factors that will drive market development, what policies governments need to adopt to promote change and growth, and what new business models are required to speed adoption,” he says.

eHealth – the application of ICT to the practice of healthcare – was the first fields to be tackled. Professor Wendy Currie from Warwick University in the UK is now working with her colleague David Finnegan and six researchers to apply a decision-making tool called TEMPEST to assess the status of eHealth adoption and diffusion at a national, regional and hospital level, in 11 EU countries.

TEMPEST works across the categories of Technology, Economic, Market, Political, Evaluation, Social and Transformation. The model aims to enable policy makers to plot a route from policy objectives to the efficient implementation of eHealth technologies.
The model, along with some of the early insights it has generated, was presented for the first time to healthcare stakeholders in the EU and the US at a Transatlantic Dialogue debate in Brussels organised by Microsoft in February 2010.

Similar perspectives

Despite the largely private funding of healthcare in the US and the largely public funding in Europe, similar perspectives emerged of how ICT can drive much-needed innovation and transformation in healthcare.

“The value of the TEMPEST model is that is provides a means of evaluating eHealth adoption that is consistent from one country to another, and – with its 84 indicators – also provides the means to understand the issues in their entirety,” says Currie.

In the first phase of research, the model was used to analyse eHealth in Spain in Germany. “Our findings show each country has different opportunities and barriers to eHealth adoption and diffusion,” Currie says.

Germany for example, with its ageing and shrinking population would do well to focus on eHealth solutions for elderly people. With its conservative approach to adopting eHealth, Currie suggests encouraging clinicians to engage with emerging technologies and consideration of how eHealth technologies may change working practices.

Spain, meanwhile, has a more agile and flexible approach to eHealth adoption and diffusion – the Spanish healthcare system is run through 17 autonomous regions, with many hospitals locally owned. However, the current economic situation suggests policy makers should focus on quick wins, rather than large new initiatives.

In the next phase the research will be expanded to assess progress in eHealth in nine other countries in Europe. “We will pinpoint best practice, but also identify the barriers, be they cultural, legal or regulatory,” says Currie.


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