In recent years, the healthcare technology sector has proven to be a highly dynamic field that is particularly capable of adapting to the new needs of both users and the healthcare system. In these times of economic crisis, this system must deal with figures that are not at all favorable, with a significant fall in available resources both from the public and private arenas and increasing life expectancy that is leading to an ageing population that requires more care. In this scenario of recession and social/demographic changes, the healthcare sector has found Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to be a strategic factor to try to maintain an adequate level of care at the lowest possible price. The goal is to provide effective, efficient healthcare in which the patient is at the center of all processes.

The new healthcare technology market has seen exponential growth in recent years. According to the European Commission, the global telemedicine market totaled $11,600 millions in 2011 and is expected to reach $27,300 millions by 2016. The Telefònica Foundation 2013 Report on the Information Society in Spain (SIE – La Sociedad de la Información en España 2013) predicts that increased use of mobile technology may cut per-capita healthcare expenditure in Europe 18% by 2017, and up to 35% for the treatment of chronic patients. The same report also highlights that e-Health services are used at a higher rate in Spain than almost any other country in Europe, and that mobile applications have already become essential in this sector. In Spain, the Internet and apps are the main way doctors access medical information: nearly 90% of these professionals use a computer, smartphone or tablet for this purpose. The report also shows that 54% of Internet users make medical appointments online.

Numerous applications have appeared on the Spanish and Catalan markets in recent years, both for online and mobile use, that facilitate access to patients’ medical data, transfer them to medical professionals and facilitate fast, safe medical care. There are two main groups of applications on the e-Health market: the ones that monitor and follow-up on users’ diseases and those that offer other health-related services, like scheduling medical appointments online or interaction between patients and medical professionals or among the latter.

e-Health developments in recent years have focused on managing chronic diseases, personalizing health services, empowering patients, early diagnosis and prevention. The aim of these apps to control and manage chronic, polypathological or polymedicated patients is to “help manage their health so that everyone has access to tools that make them more aware of their health so they can be more autonomous and responsible,” explain Ana Manchon and Marc Pares, who are in charge of the expertSalud app. This is one of three tools created under Esteve’s e-Health program, which allows users to enter their health information and monitor it daily. The group also offers patients access to the expertSalud website, which stores all of the user’s health-related information as well as their medication plan and any non-pharmacological clinical variables the user may want to monitor. The site shows the user’s evolution graphically and visually, in addition to providing other services.

Victor Bautista, founder of SocialDiabetes and head of Product Development, expresses a similar sentiment: “Better patient control of their disease allows for better quality of life, fewer complications and fewer emergency visits.” SocialDiabetes is an app that diabetic users, both type 1 and 2, can download for free from GooglePlay or the Apple AppStore and “start to use as soon as they add their carbohydrate and insulin protocols. The app recommends the best amount of insulin at any given time depending on the data entered, thus allowing them to avoid both high and low blood sugar levels.” This app, which has already been downloaded more than 30,000 times, received the 2012 award for the best Spanish app in the m-Health category from the World Summit Award Mobile (promoted by the United Nations and the UNESCO), the Big Impact Award 2014 from AppCircus and several national awards.

The app includes a history of blood-sugar results and automatic insulin dose recommendations, sends messages and warnings, and features the patient’s drug history, a calculator and meal parameters. Moreover, it makes doctors’ work easier as they can remotely monitor all of their patients. It also scans barcodes from food packages to get additional information and allows diabetics to communicate with each other and have “control over the disease in real time. Thanks to which it also provides statistics and graphs on the patient’s current behavior, allows doctors to make a more accurate diagnosis and make better decisions,” adds Víctor Bautista. This is also true of the Esteve expert website for healthcare professionals, where “experts can follow up with their patients, monitor them remotely and see their progress in real time. Moreover, they have global information for all their patients, as a whole, that can also be viewed individually for each one,” explain Ana Manchon and Marc Pares, who run the site.

These and other apps to improve the management of chronic diseases and boost autonomy and healthcare safety in patients have a direct impact on achieving another goal of e-Health: to move towards a higher quality, more sustainable healthcare system. The ability to systematically, accurately monitor various indicators for any one disease, especially for those that are chronic, allows for better control and prevention of future complications, and considerably cuts down on the number of in-person visits with medical staff, as well as emergency hospitalizations. And reduced healthcare expenditure is a direct consequence of this. According to a 2013 report by the World Health Organization (WHO), there are more than 347 million diabetics in the world and this disease is one of the top ten global causes of death. This and other chronic pathologies currently affect more than 20 million people over 50 in Spain and are the direct cause of 70% of all healthcare expenditure.

Biocat & Isabel Muntané Taller de periodisme at Associació cultural Pas9. Linkedin profile

Copyright: © Isabel Muntané / Biocat

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