In the latest iteration in digital wearables, much was made of the Apple Watch’s fall monitor and ECG functionality, with the technology-grabbing headlines.
But within the Internet of Things (IoT), smart watches are just the tip of a large and multifaceted iceberg known as ‘eHealth’.
eHealth, a sophisticated technological ecosystem worth billions to the European economy, has the potential to knit together individuals’ health data, offering truly personalised care provision. With an ageing population and a cohort demographic beset with chronic disease and illness, healthcare budgets are under strain.
Forecasts from the European Commission value the eurozone digital economy at around €415bn a year, according to Barry Lowry, chief information officer at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. The opportunity for Irish businesses in the connected medical devices and healthcare software sectors is huge.
Connected health puts the patient and their data at the centre of healthcare provision, rather than in locations such as hospitals and GP surgeries. Instead of designing healthcare around reaction to acute episodic events – a heart attack, for example. Connected health seeks to improve patient outcomes by allowing shared data to mitigate intervention from the start. Remotely-monitored drug regimens, daily vitals and medical data-sharing among care professionals are the bedrock of this emerging sector.
For instance, in Catalonia, Spain, a patient’s GP visit, or indeed full medical history, is allied to a unique profile, allowing pharmacists to dispense and hospitals to treat by referencing digital records, with clear advantages for the patient. We now need to see similar momentum in Ireland.
Irish firms in the eHealth sector are well placed to take advantage of opportunities in the Connected health landscape. Strategically, the Government is committed to a National Digital Strategy, while its Slaintecare strategy outlines key delivery targets for the HSE.
Ireland’s health ecosystem is vibrant. As one of our strongest and most important sectors, medical technology employs 38,000 people in around 350 companies, 234 of which are indigenous small and medium enterprises. It also contributes to the 100,000 people employed by Irish companies with operations in the US.
Ireland continues to lay the groundwork for fostering innovation. For example, the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation and the Department of Health have come together with the HSE and Enterprise Ireland to establish Health Innovation Hub Ireland (HIHI), to offer companies opportunities for pilot and clinical validation studies in hospitals. The initiative gives the health service access to innovative products, services and devices, while providing clinical validation to companies supported by Enterprise Ireland. Core to HIHI is an ethos and recognition that collaboration with companies can benefit patient care, patient pathways and outcomes.
As Ireland is already a world-class hub for technology and medical devices, it’s no surprise that it is emerging as a hub for connected health too. The Irish-based European Connected Health Alliance actively promotes and supports the connected health agenda through its presence in more than 40 countries. ECH Alliance events are the perfect forum for investors, partners and start-ups to engage with experts from government, education, multinationals and the indigenous sectors. Active collaboration with multinationals and large indigenous companies is a key ingredient for the future of how Enterprise Ireland supports clients, and we encourage such organisations to reach out and get involved.
Companies we support have access to leading research and innovation programmes, including the Technology Gateway Programme, along with world-class technology centres located nationwide. In addition to equity investment, we offer grant supports, expert advice and high-level market research assistance, while our network of 34 overseas offices enables companies to build partnerships with stakeholders around the world.
To continue to meet our healthcare needs, this should be just what the doctored ordered.
Kevin Ryan is a senior development adviser covering High Potential Start-Ups and life sciences at Enterprise Ireland.
Sunday Indo Business