M Warrender highlights the strides made on digital healthcare in France and outlines what Health Minister Marisol Touraine is doing to secure its future
Digital healthcare in France has evolved immensely over the last decade. New technology and innovations are leading the way to help to reduce the burden of many challenges, such as an ageing population and chronic health problems. In supporting patients and doctors alike, improving services and patients’ quality of life, eHealth is proving to be a key tool for the healthcare sector.
“eHealth brings strong promises, including better quality, safer and more efficient healthcare system”, declares French Minister of Health and Social Affairs, Marisol Touraine, as she describes the benefits of France’s current 2020 eHealth Strategy.
In December 2015, the French Association of Medical Devices Companies (SNITEM), the French Association of Pharmaceutical Companies (LEEM) and the main associations representing companies in the IT sector (FEIMA, LESISS and Syntec Numérique) created the alliance eHealth France, which aims to foster eHealth initiatives. The goal of this alliance is to create further engagement with new ideas and reinforce new and current eHealth initiatives.
Digital healthcare in France: The national eHealth strategy
Touraine, who has served as Minister of Health and Social Affairs since May 2012, unveiled France’s National eHealth Strategy in October 2016, boosting eHealth initiatives and bringing together representatives of industry professionals, users, and public institutions that contribute to its implementation, with its 4 pillars of priority:
- Develop medicine connected through a “big data” plan. This plan will allow for example the development of new remote monitoring applications or interpretation of medical data to assist healthcare professionals in their diagnosis;
- Foster co-innovation between health professionals, citizens and economic players with the launch of calls for projects dedicated to eHealth or development of “living labs” that allow companies to test their innovations in real-life settings in order to imagine, in direct connection with users, the medicine of tomorrow (telemedicine tools, treatment tracking applications, etc.);
- Administrative simplification for patients (such as admission, and making appointments online) and equip health democracy with a digital platform to facilitate consultation and participation of users;
- Strengthen the security of health information systems through a dedicated action plan.
This strategy represents forward-facing, modernising research, incorporating technology. It has been prompted by advances in the ability to collect substantial amounts of health data through a variety of connected devices such as phones, smartwatches, and apps, which all present the opportunity to improve health monitoring, prevention and research. Everywhere in France, doctors, nurses, administrative staff and patients are proposing and implementing new ways of working thanks to today’s digital age.
In the strategy’s introduction, Touraine states that these innovations are vital to our healthcare system in order to overcome new problems between professionals, to cope with the increasing number of patients suffering from chronic illnesses, and to enable patients to be more involved in their own healthcare. Marisol Touraine also announced in May, an investment plan of €2bn, including €750m for the development of digital tools.
Risk and reward
While there are countless benefits to this strategy, there are also many undeniable risks accompanying it.
This is where the fourth pillar of the strategy comes to the forefront of importance. Touraine has installed a dedicated action plan consisting of high priority actions to be implemented by healthcare institutions, and medical laboratories in order to protect the information, manage accounts and secure internet access.
Touraine stressed that “safety and security are indispensable to the trust and acceptability of innovation for patients, as well as professionals”, ensuring questions from both the public and professional fields don’t go unanswered and people are never left feeling unsettled about this new approach, and the risks that inevitably follow. “I want healthcare institutions to take responsibility in this field and take all the necessary measures to ensure that they function effectively.”
On 2 January 2017, Touraine released a statement wishing France all the best for the New Year, with reference to some priority areas that the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs will focus on during this coming year. She highlights complementary healthcare for all employees, caregiver’s rights, strengthening access to abortion, and finally, access to innovative treatments, which the 2020 eHealth strategy will aim to produce.