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Framing the issue of technology and policy in Europe

How or if technology is implemented in the care sector varies greatly among the European countries represented in PACITA, [1] alongside a varied approach from policy makers. In order to map the terrain, the first tasks of the PACITA project on ageing societies were therefore to produce a policy status overview (Fitzgerald, 2014), presenting and comparing the different strategies put forward by policy makers in country. In the same way, a technology overview (Meidert and Becker, 2013) was made in order to map the technologies that are used in the European care sector today and to anticipate which technologies may play a role in the future of (health) care for senior citizens.

The technology overview showed that a variety of devices and technology are used in European health-care services today. However, implementation varies from country to country, and the range of technologies is increasing as their market potential is increasingly recognized by developers and investors. Most of the technology, which has already been implemented, belongs to what we may call 'first-generation telecare', such as alarm buttons and sensors. Some countries have already started using more complex technology, which includes the measurement of vital signs or two-way digital communication between patient and doctor to reduce the need for home visits or hospital appointments.

The variation of technologies is reflected at the policy level. Although all countries are facing the same challenges, they respond in quite different ways. Analysis of policy documents from the different countries involved in PACITA shows that the use of technology in care is starting to be recognized in some countries. However, there are large national differences in the way that it is interpreted as well as the perceived level of urgency in designing, addressing and implementing such policies. The analysis of policy documents also shows that there are a number of definitions used to describe telecare and home-based telemedicine. The differences are not only between countries but also within countries – for example, between official governmental reports and national stakeholders.

Technological developments are always difficult to predict, but the technology overview highlights some trends that probably will influence the distribution and implementation of technology in the health-care sector. Among these trends are smartphone and mobile solutions that would enable easier data collection and communication. Together with an increasing use of monitoring devices, digital assistants and a wide selection of apps, mobile health may become a reality in the near future. Data collection and big data analysis will increase and can be used for prediction and preventive work.

Just as important as technological development is the development of regional, national and European policies that address the various ways in which technologies could be integrated in health-care systems. Whether health authorities choose to encourage implementation or to stay passive will strongly affect future use. Private actors and industry will also play an important role as the potential of a flourishing market for health-care technology will affect policy making all over Europe. One of the overall conclusions reached in this mapping exercise is thus that long-term policies and strategies will be necessary in order to implement technology in a productive and responsible way.

  • [1] The involved partners represented Austria, Bulgaria, Catalonia (Spain), the Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Ireland, Norway, Switzerland and Wallonia (Belgium).
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