Right now, health services opt to acquire electronic information systems that store patients' clinical records; these are of a closed nature and need to be continually adapted and, in some cases, replaced by other more modern ones when new functionalities can no longer be incorporated. This practice entails considerable economic cost, and does not guarantee, either, that a new version may not end up obsolete in the future.
"If I had to give an example, I would say that the current electronic clinical record systems would be comparable with the early 'closed' mobile telephony systems that came onto the market, whereas the e-health platform would be akin to today's smartphones," explained the engineer Aitor Eguzkitza. "The early mobile phones included the same basic functions for all users, whereas smartphones, apart from the basic services, can incorporate apps depending on the specific needs of each user. What is more, these apps are compatible with mobile phone models provided by different manufacturers. In other words, each health system would be able to personalise its own system and include new parameters without having to acquire another more powerful terminal".
A faster system without intermediaries
With respect to electronic clinical records currently in force, if doctors need to add a new field, they need to contact the computing services to get it installed. This request entails a bureaucratic effort and a waste of significant time for both parties. With the e-health platform proposed in the thesis, the doctors themselves would be capable, without resorting to intermediaries, to generate the information recorded in each of their clinical processes.
"The main advantage is that instead of having to wait for a major company to add a generic solution to the next version of its macro-system of clinical information, small, medical software enterprises would be able to propose tools for highly specific health scenarios," he said.
The researcher also pointed out that if a tool is successful, a company could develop it for various platforms. "As happens with mobile phone apps which can be used with both Android and iOS, e-health platforms would be capable of exchanging clinical information without any problems, because they are based on specific standards," he added.
Tests involving three ophthalmological disorders
In collaboration with Osasunbidea, the Navarrese Health Service, Eguzkitza tested his platform using three clinical processes with the aim of improving the management of it. They are three chronic ophthalmological disorders that are threatening to swell the waiting lists of the Ophthalmology Service, owing to the lack of available specialists to monitor the patients within the recommended intervals: diabetic retinopathy, age-related macular degeneration, and chronic glaucoma, the most frequent causes of preventable blindness in Europe.
In the traditional system, the diagnostic tests are concentrated in the ophthalmologist's consulting room, so the waiting list depends directly on the capacity for work of each consultant. The alternative offered by the electronic platform is to spread the work out among different rooms and have nurses with specific training carry out the diagnostic tests separately. That way, the ophthalmologist can assess the tests remotely and prioritise consultation time for patients with more urgent diagnoses. "The computing system would enable technical and human resources to be redistributed more efficiently with the subsequent improvement in patient care and the shortening of waiting lists for specialised care," he concluded.