Estonia, the Netherlands & Nordics continue to drive eHealth adoption and use in Europe, study finds

A new report from HIMSS sheds light on the current state of eHealth in Europe.
By Leontina Postelnicu
06:40 AM

The world has long looked at the Nordics as an example for driving much of the innovation that is happening nowadays, and the situation is no different in digital health, according to a new study from HIMSS, in cooperation with McKinsey, published today.

Supported by international management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, it reveals that the Netherlands and the Nordics continue to be seen as “role models” for the adoption and use of eHealth in Europe, based on the responses of over 500 professionals in the field.

But Estonia has swapped places with Denmark and is now perceived to be the leading eHealth country in Europe, following the launch of an initiative that allows EU citizens to retrieve medication prescribed electronically by doctors in Finland in Estonian pharmacies through the new eHealth Digital Service Infrastructure.

TOPLINE DATA

Despite progress being made, findings indicate that eHealth professionals in Europe continue to grapple with many of the challenges seen in other regions around the globe, from the lack of funding or political direction to poor interoperability.

The shortage of skilled workers is another concern for all the stakeholder groups surveyed. Jörg Studzinski, director of research and advisory services at HIMSS Analytics, said workforce development should be a priority for every organisation in a separate interview with Healthcare IT News published today.

“Improving the competencies of the workforce can lead to significant efficiency gains, higher work satisfaction and improved safety for patients. Ideally this is a combination of process changes and staff trainings.

“If we give healthcare staff members better digital tools and if we want them to be accountable for their work performance, we need to make sure that they are properly trained, but also that these tools are aligned with internal workflows,” Studzinski said.

IT security, EMR implementation and improving patients’ access to information are seen as top priorities for the next 12 months, although the results vary according to each country’s level of digital maturity.

While the deployment of electronic records is the main concern for those in Germany and the UK, the Netherlands and the Nordics are focusing more on ensuring patients have access to their data, improving interoperability and leveraging the use of artificial intelligence.

“IT security and EMR solutions are top of mind topics for German eHealth professionals. This is important to build a solid foundation for working in a digital health system,” said Tobias Silberzahn, partner at McKinsey & Company.

“However, we should already now think about tomorrow and ask ourselves: What is the goal of digitising the healthcare system? Or more specifically: How do we intend to link the more than 25 digital product categories that are currently being created with our existing healthcare system for the benefit of the patient? These are exciting questions that range from digitally integrated care delivery to personalised medicine," Silberzahn added.

Looking a bit further ahead, over the next two to three years, eHealth professionals from most European countries expect a shift of priorities towards empowered and more active patients, the provision of telemedicine, and the enablement of continuity of care.

According to the study, an increase in AI-based solutions and the provision of more personalised medical or preventative services is also expected.

But it is rather unlikely that we will see widespread implementation and use of products and services featuring augmented reality capabilities or blockchain technology within the next three years. This will either take longer or work for special use cases, the researchers cautioned.

WHY IT MATTERS

Furthermore, across all the countries polled, a majority of healthcare staff believe that their organisations’ IT budget is “too low”.

“Clinical staff members do more often perceive the IT budgets of their own organisations to be insufficient than their colleagues from IT departments. This can be a sign of frustration, i.e. digital solutions not delivering the expected benefits from an end user perspective. We recommend to investigate this further,” the researchers noted.

But the findings show that the countries that are ahead are also the ones that are prioritising investment in digital.

“While the reported spending numbers will have to be interpreted with some caution because they are based on estimations from professionals that do not always have insights into the exact accounting figures, it is still intriguing to see that the countries that are perceived to be more digitally mature in eHealth are also those who spend the most on technology,” Studzinski said.

THE LARGER TREND

The study published today echoes many of the challenges and priorities identified in reports from previous years.

Only this month, management and technology consultancy Sopria Steria Consulting found in a survey that a majority of Germans were disappointed with the progress that their country was making in digitising healthcare, based on the responses of around 200 citizens. 

On the provider side, in the UK, a recent study found that around 80% of GPs saw “poor IT and tech support” as key barriers to the widespread adoption of video consultations.

But with increasing pressures on health systems, including ageing populations and workforce shortages, it is clear that more stakeholders are turning to evidence-based innovations to provide services that are fit for the future.

ON THE RECORD

Commenting on the eHealth trends identified in the HIMSS report, Jochen Messemer, partner at McKinsey & Company, said: “In Germany and many other countries, providers must speed up empowering patients through pan-organisational electronic patient records and the supplementary provision of telemedicine.”

Healthcare IT News is a publication of HIMSS Media.