Frédéric Destrebecq, Vinciane Quoidbach and Marijn Scholte from The European Brain Council (EBC) detail how the future of healthcare and improved brain health can be achieved through implementing digital health technology
The European Brain Council (EBC) is a Brussels-based organisation that gathers patient associations, major brain-related societies, as well as industries, with a mission to promote brain research in Europe to improve the quality of life of those living with brain disorders in Europe. As they join the eHealth conversation and digital technologies continue to develop at a rapid pace, plus the fact that the use of health data continues to widen, EBC firmly believes that the future of healthcare and improved brain health can only be achieved through implementing digital health technology that is properly designed. EBC, therefore, aims to join the forerunners in the digital movement. Brain health’s digital future is clearly on its way.
Brain disorders are highly prevalent and disabling diseases and represent a tremendous burden on European society. A cost study conducted by the European Brain Council (EBC) in 2011 underlined that more than 1 in 3 Europeans, i.e. 179 million people, are likely to be affected by a disorder of the brain, the treatment of which is estimated to cost close to €800 billion annually (1). Psychiatric and neurological disorders, ranging from schizophrenia, anxiety and Alzheimer’s disease, to Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy and multiple sclerosis, are the root of many chronic diseases (2) and represent 35% of the burden of all diseases in Europe (3).
Despite the unprecedented scientific progress made in recent years, there is still no cure for a wide range of brain disorders, though effective treatments do enable faster recovery and better outcomes. Against this backdrop, EBC recently launched a Policy White Paper on the “Value of Treatment (VoT) for Brain Disorders in Europe”, which provides a series of policy recommendations to address the unmet medical needs of people living with brain conditions. The VoT study highlighted the importance of using eHealth tools for solving issues associated with treating brain disorders and that the proliferation of digital health tools, including mobile health apps and wearable sensors, has the potential to greatly improve the prevention and management of brain disorders (4).
EBC aims to further explore the potential of eHealth for addressing challenges associated with brain disorders and has in this context contributed to the drafting of the Digital Health Society Declaration5 and provided input to the public consultation on Health and Care in the Digital Single Market. It is crucial for organisations, such as EBC, that a Europe-wide regulatory framework gets implemented, allowing stakeholders to fully harness the advantages of digitalisation.
In this regard, EBC believes policymakers need to prioritise action in a certain number of areas such as health data sharing, mobile interventions or digital literacy. A recent report highlighted several potential benefits associated with the use of health data for research purposes, such as reduced duplication of research, the greater external validity of research and more opportunities to reveal patterns of causation (a result of linking datasets) (6).
Additionally, a recent publication in the Journal of Medical Internet Research underlined the potential of applications and SMS text messaging for reducing symptoms of stress, depression and anxiety and highlighted the need for further investigation (7). Finally, healthcare professionals need to have the required ICT skills to successfully use digital solutions and therefore eHealth should become part of the curricula of healthcare providers.
These examples are few of many digital solutions and focus areas that can change the way in which healthcare is provided and highlight some of the potential advantages that digital health is likely to provide for the benefit of patients and society at large. In this regard, it is important that decision-makers set clear future policy objectives in the domain of digital health and further explore opportunities for progressing the digital transformation of care delivery, to the benefit of millions of Europeans living with brain disorders.
1 Di Luca, M. & Olesen, J. (2014) The cost of brain diseases: a burden or a challenge? Neuron 82, 1205-1208.
2 Wittchen HU, Jacobi F, Rehm J, Gustavsson A, Svensson M, Jönsson B, Olesen J, Allgulander C, Alonso J, Faravelli C, Fratiglioni L, Jennum P, Lieb R, Maercker A, van Os J., Preisig M, Salvador-Carulla L, Simon R, Steinhausen HC (2011). The size and burden of mental disorders and other disorders of the brain in Europe 2010. Eur Neuropsychopharmacol.doi: 10.1016/j.euroneuro.2011.07.018.
3 Silberberg, D. et al. (2015) Brain and other nervous system disorders across the lifespan — global challenges and opportunities. Nature 527, S151–S154.
4 European Brain Council. (2017) VOT policy white paper: towards optimizing research and care for brain disorders. 1-119.
5 The Digital Health Society Declaration (2017).
6 Marjanovic, S. et al. (2017) Understanding value in health data ecosystems: a review of current evidence and ways forward. 1-40.
7 Rathbone, A. L. & Prescott, J. (2017) The use of mobile apps and SMS messaging as physical and mental health interventions: systematic review. Journal of Medical Internet Research 19, e295.
EBC Executive Director
Public Health and Policy, Research Project Manager
The European Brain Council (EBC)
Tel: +32 (0)2 513 2757