And it looks like we are losing the battle. According to “Healthcare expenditure statistics” from Eurostat, “[The] highest share [of total healthcare expenditure] of current healthcare expenditure [related to preventive care] in 2014 was recorded in Italy and the United Kingdom (both 4.1 %), while at the other end of the range, shares of less than 1.0 % were recorded in Romania (0.8 %) and Cyprus (0.6 %).” At the other end “curative care and rehabilitative care services incurred more than 50.0 % of current healthcare expenditure in the vast majority of EU Member States”
It may be that this is the right balance, but allow me to doubt it. And my doubts grow as I focus on the demographic change taking place in Europe. The baby-boomers are getting older and we are not doing anything about it, despite the fact that it is probably a generation ready to embrace a healthier and more active life than previous older generations.
I have been wondering, since I started working for the healthcare and social sectors, why it is that prevention does not get the attention of our policy makers.
Many explanations come to mind. Of course, simply saying “they are stupid” is the easy one but I refuse to fall for it. I strongly feel that anybody who has attained a position of responsibility may have many faults, but being stupid cannot be one of them; they would never have reached that position of responsibility.
The urgency of solving the immediate problem may be one of the reasons; after all, if somebody has an acute illness something urgent has to be done. It is a plausible explanation but, if that were the case, policy makers would never plan for the future building new roads or housing developments since they would be too busy repairing the existing road network or the old houses in inner cities.
I am afraid that highways are built because they make the news. I am afraid that most of the things that our policy makers do are geared towards a 30 second appearance in prime time national TV news. If that assumption is right, then it is clear that the opening of a new hospital (curative and rehabilitative care) is a better news item than the establishment of a prevention scheme that does not require any new buildings, or any new expensive and photogenic equipment. It requires only brains and hands, probably the least photogenic tools of the healthcare process and, probably too, the most ignored by policy makers.
Publicado en eHealth (English) | Etiquetado ageing, health care, older people, prevention, primary care, socio-health care | Leave a Comment »
I was invited by The Economist to attend their conference on Ageing Societies, held in London (UK) during the 29th and 30th of November. I will not pretend to summarize one and a half days in this short post. I will try, nevertheless, to bring out those three interventions and a message that, to me, were more relevant.
Let´s start with the message. I have been involved with ageing for a long time. My first public intervention was at the London School of Economics in March 2011 although, previously, I attended the AAL Forum at Odense in 2010. Since then I have focused the problem on “older people”. No wonder, since I have worked with several hospitals dedicated to the rehabilitation of older people since 2006. Ten years make a mark on a person. So, the first realization was that at the conference we were not talking about “older people”; we were talking about “Ageing Societies”, which is completely different. The world population is ageing; from Asia to Europe and America and even in Africa. Societies are ageing. The socio-economic infrastructure was designed to care for a nice population pyramid, not for a population cylinder or, even worst, an inverted pyramid. Accordingly, we have to redesign the socio-economic infrastructure in general and the care infrastructure in particular so as to be able to handle an Ageing Society.
John Beard´s presentation (from the WHO) was a masterpiece introducing the importance of health care for the future of our societies. His presentation, based on the “Report on Ageing and Health”, highlighted two important aspects that we tend to forget. One is that older people are diverse. Probably because we are used to giving certain benefits linked to age, for example free entrance to museums or cheaper public transportation for over 65s, we put everybody over 65 into the same category. Of course this is not real and older people have very different functional capabilities. This was the second aspect. The category used to guide our efforts in dealing with an ageing society should be functional capability. The above mentioned report states that “burdens of disability and death arise from age related losses in hearing, seeing and moving, and non-communicable diseases”. So, it is my interpretation that we should move from focusing on age to focusing on those disabilities that hinder our functional capabilities. And it should be noticed that those kinds of disabilities do not come only with old age. They pop up at any time; how many young people need glasses?
It was mentioned by someone during the Focus on Asia interview that “the problem in an ageing society lies with the young people in their 30s”. Natalia Kanem (from the UN Population Fund) expanded on the same idea, and more. She introduced us, through the “The State of World Population 2016”, to the fact that “investing in 10-year-old girls could yield huge demographic dividends”. It all boils down to the same idea: prevention is the key to a successful design of our ageing societies. It is my belief that, unless we invest in our youth now, our societies are not going to be able to cope with the on-going demographic change.
And finally, the last intervention that I would like to bring to you was about breaking silos. When talking about ageing and its related problems, there is a part of society which focusses almost exclusively on social and health factors. There are also other professionals that focus exclusively on economic and financial factors. To my knowledge, very little has been done to bring those two worlds together. And a token sample of that lack is the composition of the speakers in the panel: both of them were from the financial sector with no representative of the other silo: the care sector. Nevertheless, the point was made: silos have to come down and the financial aspects of an ageing society have to be intertwined with the care aspects. So far their courses have run parallel. Now they should start running together.
I could summarize that tackling the problems of our ageing societies needs an intervention in our youth of today, fostering the development of their own functional capabilities in a holistic way, combining the socio-health-financial aspects of every human being.
And this is my summary of one and half days of a very intensive and interesting event.
Publicado en eHealth (English) | Etiquetado AAL, ageing, ageing societies, breaking silos, demographic change, demography, disability, functional capability, older people, population pyramid, rehabilitation | Leave a Comment »
If you come across anybody who has not heard of Internet of Things (IoT) be careful, the person surely comes from another planet. IoT is at the centre of any ICT research. Everybody is developing devices, claiming that these will interconnect to anything you already have or will have.
And yet, at home we still have several remote controls for our smart TV, for recording devices, and for the all present black box that allows us to enjoy hours of the most degrading TV shows. Of course, the sound system runs under another completely different set of remote controls: for the CD player, the tuner, not to mention the necessary turntable that we have brought to life again after having been convinced that the sound is a lot more natural on an analogic record than in a digitalized CD.
IoT’s promise is that all our gadgets will be interconnected inside our homes and even with the exterior. A different problem is whether I really want my fridge to send messages to my grocery store to replace that uneatable marmalade that my daughter in law gave me and that I have been struggling to finish for the past two months.
Although the promise is great, reality strikes back. As of today, only 6% of American households have a smart-home device, and 72% of Britons have no plans to adopt smart-home technology in the near future (The Economist 11.06.2016). Of course it does not help that some of the smart gadgets like the Samsung´s smart fridge goes for almost $ 6,000.
IoT marketing is probably missing the point, as has been the case in many new ICT developments. Putting the focus on the ICT novelty will not attract people. Unless the smart-home gadget solves a real problem, it is difficult to convince people to adapt it. Technology is available today for doing almost anything that anybody can think of. The problem is the generational divide. Young people full of energy devise new things that are meant for older people maybe two or even three generations apart. Have they asked those people what they really need? Have they participated in every phase of the development?
Just as a marker, go to the pictures of any of the ICT gatherings in the world and try to spot anybody older than 65. Even those gatherings especially dedicated to ageing, like the yearly AAL Forum which I have attended many years, are packed with young people full of ideas that will be tested on older people just because the rules say so, not really because they feel like it.
And then we come to the pure ICT problem of interconnectivity. It is essential to develop a common standard to allow seamless connectivity among gadgets from different makers. From what I know, that is being done more or less for industrial IoT, but something similar for the domestic domain is lacking.
In all, my bet is that IoT as something integrated in everyday life is a long way off. Only a concerted effort to develop an overall global standardisation, coupled with real intergeneration symbiosis, will bring forward the realization of the home IoT.
Publicado en eHealth (English) | Etiquetado generational divide, ict, interconnected, interconnectivity, intergeneration, Internet of Things, IoT, smart-home, standard, standardisation | 1 Comment »
The process from research to market for any drug includes, in a nut-shell, four phases: identify the need, research, test, and bring it to the market. The last two tasks could be translated into proving the efficacy of the drug (testing), and proving its efficiency (bringing it to the market) so that it is cost-effective. Are all those phases undertaken when dealing with eHealth systems? I think that a clear no is the answer. And if any of those phases are clearly missing, they are the last two a) is the eHealth system more efficient than the current system? b) is the eHealth system cost-effective? Therein lies probably one of the keys to the lack of adoption of eHealth systems across the EU in particular and the world in general.
We’ll assume that organizations are rational entities (I know it is a big assumption) and will not plunge into costs just for the sake of it. So, let us think that if an organization launches the research effort to develop a new eHealth system, it is because it has spotted a need for such a system.
Now for the testing phase. We all know that no drug will be approved if it has not been properly tested. We also understand that the specifications for testing an eHealth system, even if they could be inspired in the methodology for drug testing, have to be adapted to the particularities of ICT. We cannot expect an app to go through the same process as a drug. Developing an app is in the range of thousands of euros, while the development phase for a drug is in the order of millions of euros. But some kind of testing should be done and its results made public so as to prove the efficacy of the system. Please go to any of the online stores that sell apps and check how many include, or make reference to, their efficacy tests results.
eHealth has also a particular characteristic that a drug does not: eHealth interferes with the healthcare process in a way that a drug doesn’t. In this respect, testing the efficacy of a particular eHealth system poses some problems since the efficacy effect is spread throughout the whole healthcare system, while a drug focusses clearly on its effect on patients.
But if testing eHealth has been, in the best of cases, a patchy process, efficiency is completely forgotten. How can we convince a healthcare provider to adopt a particular eHealth system without demonstrating its cost-saving potential? How many eHealth systems do you know that have carried out any of the available techniques for measuring the probable added value to the patient and the healthcare provider? And again we should recognize the difficulty involved in evaluating the efficiency of eHealth. It is not only the previously mentioned spread effect across the healthcare system, but also its effect across other systems such as the social care system. In fact, sometimes an eHealth system has a more profound effect on the social care system than on the healthcare system itself.
But all those difficulties should not blind us to the need to perform, and make available to the public, the testing procedure and the added value calculation of our eHealth systems. I would recommend that the healthcare authorities who have started to approve certain apps, such as in Andalusia or England, make available the results of the efficacy and efficiency evaluations of those apps they approve.
Publicado en eHealth (English) | Etiquetado added value, cost-effective, cost-saving, efficacy, efficiency, ehealth, healthcare, R&D, testing | Leave a Comment »