Saturday

21st Jul 2018

Focus

Power to the patient

Doctors, it is said, are not exactly what might be called early adopters of new technologies. It took them almost a generation to get used to the stethoscope after it was invented in the early 19th century.

Today, they are not much faster. The average time for a medical innovation to come into daily practice, says Eric Topol, an American cardiologist and author of a new book on what he calls “the consumer-driven healthcare revolution that is waiting to happen”, is 17 years.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... our join as a group

  • The Quantified Self movement likes to track and share all kinds of health data (Photo: wikipedia)

"They are absolutely sclerotic," he told EUobserver, "ossified."

The revolution, then, will have to come from patients, Topol argues. Or rather, from consumers, because patients of the 21st century make their own decisions.

Educate yourself

One of those patients is Dave deBronkart, an American blogger and activist better known as e-Patient Dave, who in 2007 was diagnosed with incurable kidney cancer. Tumours had spread throughout his body. Doctors told him he had another 24 weeks to live.

But deBronkart went online and joined a cancer patient community, where he learned of a clinical trial for a powerful drug that just might do the trick. It did. Little less than a year later, deBronkart was cured.

"It is not a failure on the doctor’s part," he told EUobserver. "There is so much going on these days. It is impossible for any one person to keep track of every new development."

But an army of patients, he says, connected through and fostered by the internet, may do a better job collectively. "Smart patients can find things that doctors haven’t seen."

Today, deBronkart leads the Society for Participatory Medicine, or the e-patient movement, a movement of people who are "equipped, enabled, empowered and engaged in their health and health care decisions," according to the movement's manifesto.

The general idea is that the internet enables today's patients to educate themselves about their health and possible treatments, and then in partnership with their doctor - or rather, consultant - decide on the way forward.

"It is no longer true that the only way to find valid, useful, clinically accurate information [on healthcare] is through medical school," says deBronkart.

Quantify yourself

One thing that e-patients care about is data. It is with data that they are able to track their health and make educated decisions.

This is why it is a bad thing, they say, that it is often difficult for patients to gain access to their own personal medical records.

In Europe, the right to access personal health data is guaranteed under EU law, but patients often need to put in a formal request and procedures can be long and complicated.

According to a study conducted for the European Commission, only four percent of European hospitals grant patients online access to their medical records.

But new technologies allow people to create their very own health records.

There is a rapidly growing market of gadgets and apps that track your heartbeat, blood pressure, sleep cycle, or even glucose level. Nike and Apple famously collaborated on a running shoe with a micro-chip that connects to your iPod, turning it into a personal trainer.

It has led to a movement of people, under the name Quantified Self, who are not necessarily sick but just like to track and share all kinds of health data, from daily exercises to the cognitive benefits of chewing gum.

Others go a step further and have their DNA sequenced. "That way, you would be able to compare it with the DNA of, say, a tumour, and look at the root of the cancer," says Eric Topol, the healthcare futurist, who in his book talks of "digitising the human body."

Brussels bay area

It all sounds very California, where most new trends and technologies come from. In fact, Quantified Self began in the San Francisco Bay Area. Eric Topol's office is in San Diego.

But, says deBronkart, "there is a great awakening going on, also in Europe."

The e-patient manifesto was recently translated into Spanish by volunteers after deBronkart visited the country. Late February, people began work on a Dutch translation. Local Quantified Self chapters are opening up across the old continent.

For her part, Birgit Beger, secretary general of the Standing Committee of European Doctors, says that e-patienthood "is not yet the European average."

But, she says, "it is a good development. It is great if a patient takes good care of himself. It makes it easier for the doctor."

EU patients get new rules on seeking treatment abroad

The European Parliament has adopted a law that allows patients to seek treatment or drug prescriptions in another EU country and be reimbursed at home if waiting lists are too long or the required medicine is not available.

EU executive to tackle patient mobility in new social package

European Commission is due to unveil a bill specifying conditions under which patients can seek health care in other EU member countries. Following tough opposition to its previous blueprint, Brussels has slightly changed its wording and opted to present the rules as part of Europe's new social initiative.

Putting the 'e' in e-health

The 'e' has become a familiar sight before words like book or commerce, while health has long been spared the token affix of the digital age. But now e-health has arrived and seems set to revolutionise traditional healthcare.

The EU and e-health: a European disease

Healthcare, strictly speaking, is none of the EU’s business. On e-health, therefore, much of the Brussels oeuvre consists of communications, recommendations, action plans, conferences and the odd pilot project. But even that seems too ambitious.

EU urges no-deal Brexit preparation

The EU Commission urged companies, citizens, and member states to prepare in case the UK next March crashes out of the EU without a deal - on the day the new UK Brexit minister arrived in Brussels.

News in Brief

  1. Libyan PM rejects EU migrant camps idea
  2. Italy's Salvini to sue critical anti-mafia writer
  3. EU countries send aircraft to Sweden to help with wildfires
  4. British ex-commissioner's jobs called into question
  5. May to tell EU to drop Irish border 'backstop' idea
  6. Trump threatens EU over Google fine
  7. Spain withdraws arrest warrant for Catalan separatists
  8. EU readies counter-measures on possible US car tariffs

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  2. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  4. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  6. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  8. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  9. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  11. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  12. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  2. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  4. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank
  5. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  7. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and Reconciliation Is a Process That Takes Decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  8. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  9. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  10. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries
  12. European Jewish CongressEU Leaders to Cease Contact with Mahmoud Abbas Until He Apologizes for Antisemitic Comments

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us