The health care system is generally seen as one of the most important and broadest application areas for new ICT services since illnesses and accidents can happen to anyone regardless of age, gender, social status, race, religion, educational level or any other variable. Furthermore, the reasons for being in contact with the health care system can also vary greatly ranging from routine check ups to deadly diseases, and from diseases which can be cured in one visit to chronic diseases that will last a lifetime with regular visits.
Today the tendency within health care is to help the patients help themselves, at least within many chronic diseases. This is due to several reasons: It relieves the pressure on the health care system, and thus leaves more time for acute patients. Furthermore having the patients manage their own disease compared to having their disease monitored has actually yielded better disease management. This also has the bonus of giving the patient control of their own life which is the case within e.g. diabetes. Patients from the workshop rated being in control and being independent as key elements in their quality of life, and better self-management will provide that.
This tendency is limited today however, by the patients’ need to have access to more advanced equipment or medical expertise currently only available at hospitals. The introduction of mobile ICT-services that can communicate test results and/or vital measurements to the hospital, provide decision support to a certain degree locally, and provide the possibility for remote consultations would greatly increase the freedom of the patient and would also increase the number of diseases that could be managed by the patient.
Such new services require trust and reliability. If patients are to use these services for transmitting very personal and sensitive information, it is absolutely pivotal that this information cannot be accessed, monitored or tampered with by any third party. If this requirement of security and privacy is not met, the service will not succeed. These services also have to support seamless global mobility in order not to hamper the patient in their daily life and routines, as well as when the patient is out of their daily environment and routine, e.g. when traveling. These requirements are specifically targeted in new communication systems as those suggested by the EU-funded research project on beyond 3G mobile, MAGNET (http://www.ist-magnet.org), where e.g. the secure and reliable communication between many different patients and doctors is channeled through connected P-PANs (Personal Private Area Networks), PANs (Personal Area Networks), PNs (Personal Networks) and the public system. These advanced connections can automate the treatment of, e.g, diabetes. The doctor – who can be located at any geographical location - can follow the development of blood sugar and call the patient for treatment, or the patient does not have to go for control visits, if all relevant parameters are measured and transmitted as ok.
A specific part of the health care system is the emergency health care. This area has some special requirements compared to the rest of the health care system. The most important probably being the need to communicate fast. In the event of an ambulance having responded to an emergency call, new mobile services could be very useful for acquiring e.g. the medical record on the patient in question, maybe the possibility to stream video to an expert during transport for faster treatment. These features will only be useful, however, if the response time is fast and reliable since speed is an important factor when dealing with emergency health care. Furthermore, the emergency health care will have many of the same requirements as the rest of the health care system, such as security and privacy.
The possibilities outlined are not only a question of convenience and division of labor. The increasing stress on the health system from, e.g., diabetes can only be met by efficient restructuring and automation of treatment. WHO has just (October 2005) published a warning that in less than a decade Asia will have 60% of all diabetes sufferers – a doubling from today’s 60 million. Diabetes potentially will overburden the health budgets of Asian nations without the introduction of automation of treatment enabled by new technology.