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User acceptance of eHealth: hype, hope or reality?

The eHealth week - from 7-9 May in Copenhagen, Denmark - closed its doors last week after three days of discussion on how to tackle the future healthcare challenges Europe is facing. The focus of this year’s conference was how to create an optimal patient journey through our healthcare system.
Anders Olauson, EPF President, took part as a panelist in the session entitled “eHealth for the chronically ill patient – hype, hope or reality?” Discussions have touched upon some of the remaining barriers that are still hampering the large deployment of eHealth services in Europe. M. Olauson hit a raw nerve: user acceptance. Despite growing evidence, user acceptance must never be taken for granted and always needs to be fostered through tackling issues such as the lack of information, the huge disparities within European countries, the current socio-economic, gender, and e-health literacy inequalities.

Equal access to high quality information

Historically paper-based records have always limited patients’ ability to access their health data. This is a mistake as providing them as much meaningful and accessible information as possible would allow them to feel more involved in their healthcare. Moreover patients who have been meaningfully involved in setting up eHealth services can play a positive role in changing the culture and promoting the use of e-Health solutions among other patients as well as among health professionals.

For this reasons we really look forward to the SUSTAINS project which is deploying patient-centered services based on patient access to Electronic Health Records and in which the European Patients’ Forum is leading the work on user requirements elicitation and patient empowerment assessment.

eHealth literacy for patients and health professionals is also crucial to ensure that eHealth does not affect negatively the patient–health professional relation. This is paramount to maintain trust among end-users of eHealth services.

Reducing disparities

Despite the proliferation of eHealth innovations over the last two decades the integration of eHealth into mainstream healthcare services has remained quite limited. There are huge disparities across as well as within European countries. Consequently, while in some regions eHealth is already a reality, for the majority of European patients eHealth still remains a big hope.

We need however to pay thorough attention to current socio-economic, gender, and e-health literacy inequalities and avoid that only better-off patients may ultimately benefit from the introduction of eHealth services. The term “innovation” in eHealth should therefore also be understood to include “low-tech”, or “simple” innovations. Innovation does not necessarily need to be expensive, and it should be valued for its potential to improve quality of services, quality of care, and the quality of life. People-focused rather than technology-focused innovation is the key.

For the very same reason it is also very important that we do not regard eHealth as a full replacement of, but rather as a complement to more conventional health services. eHealth can help eliminate unnecessary face-to-face encounters, while at the same time sustaining the patient-health professional relation by enabling more regular contacts.

“To further foster user acceptance, we are really looking forward to the findings of the RENEWING HeALTH project as well as the Chain of TRUST project. Both projects will bring new evidence of patients’ experiences and perceptions of telehealth and will shed some light on what needs to be done in order to improve acceptance among users of these innovative types of services”, added the EPF President. EPF has also singled out user acceptability as one of the priority areas for future eHealth policy developments in the eHealth Governance Initiative – a political initiative aimed at establishing cooperation on eHealth between EU Member States and stakeholders. 

Neelie Kroes, Vice President of the European Commission, said “patients can do more than just passively consuming healthcare. Simple ICT tools can put health choices into their hands; a system which is both more cost-effective and more empowering,” she said. And, John Dalli, European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, added: "The time of doctors talking down to passive patients is over."

For further information about the eHealth week, please go on the event website.

For more information about EPF work in eHealth policy area, please contact Liuska Sanna, Programme Manager.