Technology has improved our lives in many ways but one area that we are only just starting to scratch the surface of and where there is perhaps the biggest potential in the coming years is healthcare.
Ageing populations in developed countries, rapid population growth in the developing world and issues such as rising obesity rates mean the burden on healthcare systems worldwide will continue to push them to breaking point if it is not addressed. Among the EU member states public health spend has risen from an average of 5.9% of GDP in 1990 to 7.2% in 2010 and that's expected to hit 8.5% in 2060. Especially in these times of economic austerity that kind of growth isn't sustainable.
The potential for technology to ease this burden and both improve healthcare for patients and boost the efficiency of doctors and nurses is huge. Anecdotal evidence shows IT adoption in healthcare lags a decade behind virtually every other sector so there is a lot of catching up to do.
But the market for these technologies is growing. Spend on global telemedicine has grown from $9.8 billion in 2010 to $11.6 billion in 2011 and is forecast to rise to $23 billion by 2015, according to a BCC Research study.
And, as seen by the gadgets at the CES trade show in Las Vegas earlier this month, there is rapid growth in health and fitness related mobile applications, devices and sensors - everything from wristbands that monitor activity levels and calories burned to heart and diabetes monitors that can report back to your doctor.
Mobile and so-called 'm-health' has a huge role to play in delivering these often life-saving benefits. Here at EE a report we commissioned by Arthur D Little on the benefits of 4G found an example of a hospital in Germany using a 4G-enabled ambulance to send live high resolution CT scans of stroke patients to specialists on route to the hospital, resulting in a 54% reduction in alarm to therapy times during the trial.
The European Commission has just issued its eHealth Action Plan, outlining goals to support the adoption of better technology-enabled healthcare across the EU by 2020 and Neelie Kroes, Commission Vice President for the Digital Agenda, said: "Europe's healthcare systems aren't yet broken, but the cracks are beginning to show. It's time to give this 20th Century model a health check. The new European eHealth Action Plan sets out how we can bring digital benefits to healthcare, and lift the barriers to smarter, safer, patient-centred health services."
Much of the work outlined in that action plan will focus on reducing the interoperability and regulatory barriers to implementing ehealth services as well as addressing legal issues such as patient privacy around personal health data and records.
Technology will continue to augment our lives in many wonderful ways over the coming decades. It brings with it the potential for greater life expectancy and quality of life through better monitoring and earlier medical intervention, faster and more cost effective treatment and improved communications and management. If the right people make the right decisions, with the right direction and investment, the well-being of citizens in both the developed and developing world could be dramatically improved.
Via Chaturika Jayadewa