Digital health boosts in Europe, and Italy follows. NRRP and Connected Care keys for change

The pandemic has revealed the limits of healthcare facilities: digitalization is the right strategy to improve patient experience, from onboarding to the end of the treatment process. The digital healthcare market is growing by 17% up to €47bn, and Italy is following with a +8% growth up to €3.3bn. On the one hand, national healthcare is still very fragmented; on the other hand, citizens are still struggling to use digital tools: 9 Italians out of 10 have never used Electronic Health Records. The funds of the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (NRRP) for digital healthcare (€2.5bn) represent a major driver for change. “ We have to renew the relationship between patients and facilities, giving access to transparent, personalized and nearer services: it’s time to invest in the connected care model” states Marzio Ghezzi, CEO at Mia-Care, an Italian startup specializing in the digital health market.

Waiting for change. Digitalization has already transformed the scenario of several industries in Italy, such as finance and mobility, but the healthcare sector is still on the road to a major evolution. In the last two decades, healthcare facilities have combined a motley set of digital technologies that originated a fragmented and uneven approach that hindered the uniformization of IT systems needed to offer integrated healthcare services to citizens. The pandemic has made two major impacts: on the one hand, it has triggered an acceleration of the digital transformation of healthcare, promoting the adoption of new home care and telemedicine models; on the other hand, it has highlighted all the difficulties of the healthcare system, which has only partly been able to adopt and offer a well-structured technological approach capable of following every aspect of the patient journey. The figures also confirm that investments in Italy have a level of complexity: according to the research “The Digital Health Market 2018-2024” compiled by NetConsulting cube, the total value of the sector reaches €3.3 bn in 2021 with +8% over 2020, and is expected to grow up to €4bn in 2024. Figures in Europe are much higher: research by the international company Graphical Research shows that the European digital health market touched €47bn last year and is expected to grow by 17% until 2027 when it will go close to €140bn. 

Italian figures represent only a small share of the European pie: only 7% in 2021 and if estimates are confirmed, 4.6% in 2024. Although the market trend is growing, the digitalization of the Italian healthcare system is still long and complex. Concrete help will come from the funds of the NRRP: according to the recent statements by the Minister for Technological Innovation Vittorio Colao, investments of about €2.5 bn in digital health are on the agenda, of which €1.3 bn for the creation of an integrated data infrastructure and €1bn for the delivery of digital health services. “We have a unique opportunity to accelerate the digital transformation of the Italian healthcare system and evolve it through innovative models and tools. But we need to hurry because we have a long way to catch up with other nations,” explains Marzio Ghezzi, CEO of Mia-Care, the Italian startup specializing in digital health services providing a flexible and scalable digital platform based on Mia-Platform technology that accelerates the digital transformation of hospitals, Pharma companies, MedTech and insurance companies. “Thanks to modern-cloud-based technologies and to a modular approach we can rebuild the relationship between doctors and patients that has been sorely challenged in recent years, offering innovative digital services for specialists, patients and all the operators working in the Italian healthcare ecosystem”. The Electronic Health Record established in 2015 is a clear representation of the difficulties that Italian healthcare is facing in this digitalization process: less than 50% of documents are indexed in about 80% of Italian regions and the uploading is done with unstructured data and different standards thus preventing interoperability between regional healthcare systems. It doesn’t get any better when analyzing user data: according to the Digital Innovation in Healthcare Observatory (Osservatorio Innovazione Digitale in Sanità) of the School of Management of the Politecnico di Milano, only 12% of people have used the Electronic Health Record and 62% have never even heard of it. The same research highlighted, however, that both physicians and patients are inclined to use digital channels of telemedicine: if, before the pandemic, televisions were used by 13% of specialist physicians and only 10% by general practitioners, during the Covid-19 emergency these percentages reached 39% for both categories, and showed a rising interest in using this service in the future (65%). As a next step, the Italian health system will be asked to organize a comprehensive offering because the numbers make it clear that this will be an inevitable trend in the future. 

Also, it will have to look for new modes of interaction for patient care, “remote care,” and the need to evolve the technological equipment provided to health care personnel. All of this can be summed up in an innovative healthcare model of “connected care”: this is personalized healthcare that is accessible thanks to new technologies and can provide real-time communication between the patient and a healthcare operator. Telemedicine, remote monitoring of patients, and communication between physicians and their patients are all examples of “connected care.” “It will be an inescapable aspect of future healthcare models where the patient and his or her needs will finally be at the center of the digital healthcare services,” the manager continues. “With this model, providers will be able to offer personalized care and medical treatment remotely through the use of a modular telemedicine platform by leveraging wearable devices to collect data useful for treatment and prevention. All of this now appears to be a distant future, but instead, it is just around the corner.” A technological transformation expected not only by citizens: according to a research by Deloitte, 92% of health systems trust that new technologies will make it possible to offer a better “patient journey,” while for 56% it will be possible to increase the quality of care and clinical care for patients. One thing seems clear: most of the planned digital investments aim at creating a new patient-friendly digital health culture. 

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