Brenda K. Wiederhold: As the Commissioner for the Digital Agenda and one of the Vice Presidents, you have a history of supporting advanced technologies for mental health. Can you discuss some of the aims of the Digital Agenda?
Neelie Kroes: The Digital Agenda for Europe (DAE) aims to help Europe’s citizens and businesses to get the most out of digital technologies. They have enormous potential to benefit our everyday lives and tackle social challenges. One of the DAE priorities is the capability of digital technology to support ageing citizens’ lives, to revolutionise health services and to deliver better public services. One of the DAE aims is to support research projects for using ICT in health are funded by the European Commission, and I look forward to seeing how our societies can use digital sciences to
improve mental health in Europe.
BKW: C&R Magazine is focused on behavioural healthcare and advanced technologies. Can you speak about some of the Commission’s priorities in behavioural healthcare?
NK: Mental health is one of the few areas of healthcare in which we have evidence showing the effectiveness of telemedicine.
Unfortunately, such evidence is not widely known and in some areas
there is not enough evidence available. Therefore, supporting research, development and innovation is one of four main areas of actions presented in the ‘eHealth Action Plan 2012 – 2020: Innovative healthcare for the 21st century’.
BKW: You have stressed the importance of using digital technology for health and wellbeing. Can you tell us some of the main priorities in this area?
NK: Considerable effort takes place across the continent to improve healthcare with the use of digital technology. However, this effort has been largely fragmented and could benefit from more cross-border coordination. eHealth tools and services have been widely introduced, but too often health authorities, hospitals,
or doctors have chosen to implement their own individual systems. If these systems were able to communicate with each other, the potential benefit they can bring to patients would increase
That is why our priorities concern wider deployment, international cooperation and interoperability of eHealth services. For the rest, we would like to stimulate research and innovation in this area. In doing so, eHealth projects could create opportunities for real breakthrough research and radical innovation in society. In order to increase the uptake we also aim at increasing awareness and trust among healthcare providers, policymakers and citizens. The latter includes digital health literacy, which could improve public health outcomes in general. All this is part of our eHealth Action Plan 2012 – 2020, which aims at empowering patients and healthcare workers, linking up devices and technologies and investing in research towards personalised medicine in the future.
BKW: What would you consider to be the Digital Agenda’s main achievements in behavioural healthcare and its priorities looking ahead to Horizon 2020?
NK: The Digital Agenda and our new funding program for research and innovation, Horizon 2020, focus on personalising health and care – more than 7 billion euros of Horizon2020’s 70 billion euro budget is dedicated to health, demographic change and wellbeing. Information and Communication Technology for mental health and wellbeing is a big part of this for a reason. Research and innovation on eHealth technologies for mental health has already considerably improved our understanding of the causes and mechanisms of these disorders – and continues to do so. Research
has also improved our ability to monitor mental health and to prevent, detect, treat and manage disease –and we want it to continue this course. So far, a lot has been achieved in supporting
older persons to remain active and healthy for longer, and new models and tools for mental health and care delivery have been tested. We are continuing on the same track, and I am confident more important advances are to be achieved in the near future.
BKW: Can you expand on how Horizon 2020’s goals will work towards addressing current healthcare challenges facing
NK: Our priorities in Horizon 2020 include further development of health and wellbeing solutions for citizens and healthcare professionals for supporting the sustainability of our healthcare systems.
We pay a lot of attention on usercentric approaches and on promoting synergies between stakeholders. Breaking the silos is one of the principles of our work. Our focus will also be on analysing large amounts of data for the benefit of all Europeans.
BKW: What do you see as some of the biggest obstacles facing healthcare and technology in Europe?
NK: Firstly, it is a lack of awareness and confidence in eHealth solutions, both among citizens and among healthcare professionals. This is partially due to the limited large-scale evidence of these solutions’ effectiveness. But, more needs to be done to make existing solutions more widely available. Second, lack of interoperability between different eHealth solutions. This may be an issue
not only across borders, but even across the hospital corridor. The third obstacle,and a very frequent one, is an organisational resistance. Again, to tackle this we need to address the two previously mentioned obstacles, but also to improve general digital literacy, as well as consider legal aspects such as security and privacy issues.
BKW: Do you feel most people are willing to embrace new technologies?
NK: Indeed I do. I come across examples where health organisations, health and care professionals, informal carers and patients step up to the challenge of creating a sustainable healthcare system. They share a vision of a more personalized approach and they are open to innovation. And I am happy that what we are doing in the European Commission is precisely this: we want to offer them as many options as possible to use those technologies that can help them achieve their goals more quickly, more accurately and in a way that is more beneficial to them, to patients, and to European societies.
BKW: What do you predict as the new trends for technology & healthcare for the next decade?
NK: I see that healthcare is getting more and more personalized and preventive at the same time. A lot can be done for maintaining people in good health and wellbeing, as well as to support people with chronic diseases to avoid unnecessary hospitalisation. I think it is of paramount importance for these patients to have doctors remotely monitoring their chronic disease so that they can stay at home longer, in familiar environments, with people they love, without this meaning their medical condition is deteriorated. And I find equally fascinating that smart phone applications can help us all monitor our health status daily, support our physical activity and,
ultimately, help us all stay healthier for longer.
Another trend is using the cloud in health. Exchanging information and services in the cloud can help us access this information and these services regardless of the devise we use, regardless
of where we are. Last, but not least, is the potential of our research. EU-funded projects make considerable breakthroughs in many areas. I would like to highlight two of these here: the Human Brain Project,
that will try, for the next 10 years, to find out more about how our brain operates and how much it can advance; and the Graphene project, which will explore, during the same period, how this
amazing and versatile substance could benefit mankind.
About Brenda Wiederhold
President of Virtual Reality Medical Institute (VRMI) in Brussels, Belgium. Executive VP Virtual Reality Medical Center (VRMC), based in San Diego and Los Angeles, California. CEO of Interactive Media Institute a 501c3 non-profit Clinical Instructor in Department of Psychiatry at UCSD Founder of CyberPsychology, CyberTherapy, & Social Networking Conference Visiting Professor at Catholic University Milan.