Thursday, 7 November 2013

Ireland ‘Perfectly Placed’ to Become World Leader in Digital Health

Ireland has the perfect economic and demographic conditions to become a world leader in digital health.  That’s according to Edel Flynn, CEO of the Digital Hub Development Agency (DHDA), who was speaking today (05.11.13) at a major conference on healthy ageing and tech at The Digital Hub.

The ‘ActivAge’ conference was organised jointly by the DHDA and St. James’s Hospital, Dublin, and brought together over 100 leaders from the medical, enterprise, tech, research and community sectors, from both Ireland and further afield.

Speaking at the event, Ms. Flynn said: “A number of factors are converging in Ireland right now, which make it the perfect place to develop world-class digital health solutions.  We have a historically strong base in pharmaceuticals and MedTech.  Nine of the top 10 pharmaceutical companies and eight of the top 10 MedTech companies are located here, and we have a proven track record in the development of products such as medicines, ventilators, contact lenses and injectable devices. 

“Now, the major growth area in health globally is the development of digital products and services; the whole area of eHealth.  Alongside our historical base with leading pharmaceutical and MedTech companies, we have a vibrant start-up community and a thriving ICT sector in Ireland –– so we’re perfectly placed to develop world-class digital health solutions.

“At the same time, demographic factors should prove conducive to promoting eHealth as a leading sector within our economy.  We have a young, mobile and extremely well-educated workforce.  But we also have a rapidly ageing population, and a health service that is experiencing more and more pressure as our population continues to age. 

“A focus on promoting eHealth as a key growth sector within the Irish economy presents a ‘win-win’ scenario for all.  For government and healthcare professionals, it offers an opportunity to provide smarter, safer and patient-centred healthcare in a more efficient and cost-effective way.  It gives entrepreneurs and investors an opportunity to develop products and services with real commercial value – with the potential to be replicated in health services across the globe.  And for the general population, it obviously results in better healthcare experiences and cost savings.

“The Government placed a strong emphasis on eHealth during the Irish Presidency of the EU earlier this year, and I hope to see this focus continued in the years to come.  We need to facilitate partnerships between public and private stakeholders, clinicians, researchers and patients to ensure effective eHealth ecosystems are developed.  We need to support entrepreneurs to work alongside healthcare providers to identify challenges and gaps that exist and look at ways of solving those.  And we need to ensure our healthcare professionals and the general population have the digital skills necessary to successfully use devices and technologies that can ensure a better health system for all,” concluded Ms. Flynn. 

A number of tech companies that work on health-related products and services contributed to today’s conference, including:

·         Lincor Solutions, which develops point-of-care computing solutions for hospitals and healthcare delivery organisations, and has its Irish base at The Digital Hub.
·         Patients Know Best, a UK-based social enterprise that uses technology to allow patients to control their own medical records.
·         Biobeats, a biotech start-up that uses biometric data to help people live healthier lives.  The company has offices in the USA, the UK and Italy.

Ireland’s Ageing Population
A range of healthcare professionals also spoke at the event.  Professor Rose Anne Kenny Director of Mercer’s Institute for Successful Ageing at St. James’s Hospital and Principal Investigator with TILDA (The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing), highlighted the consequences of Ireland’s ageing population for the healthcare system, and the role technology can play in meeting the associated challenges.

“Life expectancy is increasing year on year because of better healthcare, better awareness of health issues, better environments and less stress,” she said.  “We are gaining approximately five hours of life expectancy with every day that passes.  A baby born in Dublin today can, on average, expect to live three months longer than a baby born on the same day last year. 

“Coupled with falling fertility rates, this remarkable progress is causing populations across the developed world to shift to a much older profile, and Ireland is no exception.  By 2050 we can expect that there will be only two people of working age to every person of retired age.  This emerging demographic has the potential to place great strain on the health services.  We need to be thinking now about how to design and deliver the services we will need to support an older population.

“Delivering a future of successful ageing requires a multidisciplinary effort.  Technology holds great promise: one recent study in the UK showed a reduction in emergency admissions of 20 per cent and elective admissions of 14 per cent, as a result of the use of telehealth technologies.  However, it’s not just about finding a technology that ‘works’ – it’s also about finding approaches that contribute positively to quality of life and that are widely accepted and adopted.”

Professor Kenny said that construction of Mercer’s Institute for Successful Ageing will begin shortly at St. James’s Hospital.  Supported with a €16.8 million donation from Atlantic Philanthropies, the Institute will integrate all clinical and research services for older people at St. James’s in a single-purpose facility. 

“At the moment, health services in Ireland are very fragmented,” she said.  “Part of MISA’s mission is to align activities so that resources can be used in a more consistent and cohesive way.  New models of care will be evaluated at St. James’s for rollout nationally.  The focus will be on making the patient’s encounter as easy as possible, providing all assessment and evaluation in a one-stop visit.”

Other medical experts who spoke at today’s event included:

·         Dr. Geraldine McMahon from the Emergency Department at St. James’s Hospital.
·         Dr. Richard Pope of Airedale Hospital NHS Foundation Trust on how the UK’s National Health Service is using digital solutions to improve the quality of patient care.
·         Dr. David Robinson, consultant geriatrician at St. James’s Hospital and lead of the ‘Local Asset Mapping Project’ (LAMP), which is working on the community aspect of supporting successful ageing.

A panel discussion on the topic of ‘How can technology contribute to successful ageing?’ also took place, chaired by Danielle Barron, Editor of Irish Medical News, and featuring Ireland’s first female Olympian, Maeve Kyle, who is now aged 85; Brian Fitzgerald, CEO of St. James’s Hospital; and a number of enterprise and health specialists.

Further information about the ActivAge conference is available