Healthcare Evolution in the Digital Single Market

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By Liam Benham, Vice President, Government and Regulatory Affairs, IBM Europe

Few would argue that good health is one of the greatest gifts we can have. That’s why healthcare matters. Providing effective healthcare to citizens has been for some time one of the biggest challenges that many governments face. And as healthcare sets off on a digital revolution that will lead towards citizen empowered and personalised health care, governments are under pressure to make the right choices and investments. Digitized healthcare is sustainable healthcare: by reshaping cost structures new services are available at a lower cost.

The European Commission will address health care in the digital single market in a communication expected later this year. This initiative will not be a moment too soon.

Liam Benham, IBM VP for European Government Affairs

At the root of a digital single market for healthcare is data. The average person today is likely to leave a trail of more than 1 million GB of health-related data – the equivalent of about 300 million books – in his or her lifetime.  The true value of the accelerating volume of data lies in the insights generated from it. Watson Health, the IBM Artificial Intelligence platform for health is taking on many real challenges worldwide, for example: working with the Undiagnosed and Rare Diseases Centre in Marburg, Germany; supporting local government in the UK with information provision to healthcare professionals; helping over-stretched oncologists in India; and empowering people with diabetes to take better care of themselves at home.

For systems like Watson to be able to deliver such remarkable benefits, the European Commission’s Digitizing Healthcare strategy should focus on three crucial elements.

Firstly, the Commission should embrace the need to pool and aggregate de-identified data that can be used for research, population health and disease prevention, and personalized medicine.

Secondly, a major challenge to data sharing right now is that healthcare systems including Electronic Healthcare Records (EHRs) are, in many cases, electronically incompatible.  The EU should help facilitate access to and sharing of data generated by EHRs and clinical information systems. Furthermore, the European Commission should propose legislation for technical standards that harmonizes access to EHRs and semantic standards for sharing of electronic health data.

Thirdly, the EU should be increasingly vocal about the need for broad health IT advancement across Europe. Member states should be driven towards providing the necessary healthcare IT infrastructure. Flagship EU projects should foster research on AI practice in healthcare. The EU should partner with organizations to advance current (HPC, big data analytics and cloud) and emerging technologies (e.g., blockchain for consumer-directed sharing of information to deliver greater trust and transparency).

These actions, combined with funding, will advance digital health and help position European healthcare businesses to be first movers.

The potential of data-based health care is staggering – we are merely at tip of the iceberg. However, the trust of patients and healthcare professionals is essential.  In the rush to harness the potential from data, it is important not to lose sight of basic expectations that individuals and enterprises have regarding data that they own or that is collected from them.

That’s why IBM recently launched a set of global principles around data responsibility. These principles spell out, in clear language, the data beliefs and practices IBM follows across the globe. For example, IBM supports transparency and data governance policies that will ensure people understand how an AI system came to a given conclusion or recommendation. This kind of transparency is important to doctors that work with our AI solutions so that they can review the evidence in their discussions with patients on why they recommend a particular treatment for their specific type of cancer.  It is important for companies to be able to explain what went into their algorithm’s recommendations. There is a chance to build an era of trust in data and that chance must not be throw away.

These are exciting times in healthcare. There is much learning, innovation and building of trust ahead for all of us. At IBM we want to continue to stimulate dialogue on the fundamental questions that must be answered to achieve the economic and societal potential of a digitized healthcare future.


Media Contact:
Anita Kelly

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