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Reports and studies :: Health and ageing in the knowledge society

Health and ageing in the knowledge society : Employment, social cohesion and e-health potential

29 April 2006

In this working document of the High Level Group on the Employment and Social Dimension of the Information Society (ESDIS) the health impact of the introduction of ICT in the workplace and its potential for an ageing society is analysed.

There is a high potential for improving working and job situations through ICT applications. However, several risks need to be kept under control in order to avoid negative impacts on health, safety and well-being at work as well as on innovation.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

In the last decades, the penetration of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) has had an impact in different ways on our health: at work, in our health behaviour and in health care systems. This working document presents how health is influenced by the use of ICT. In particular on the one side it looks at the ICT impact on occupational health and safety including specific conditions of the health sector. On the other side it focuses on the role technologies can play, both for the well-being of individuals and also on the risks of new forms of exclusion it can cause. The document is based on studies as well as examples and practices provided by Member States. It will raise the awareness of, and propose some solutions for, these crucial issues which will be important also in the future.

The working environment and conditions have changed in particular as the introduction and use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) has modified the organisation of work. ICT was expected to bring high returns in terms of new skills and better working conditions. This paper examines to what extent these expectations have been met.

On the one side there is a high potential for improving working and job situations through ICT applications. On the other side the evolution of work in the knowledge society shows that several risks need to be kept under control in order to avoid negative impacts on health, safety and well-being at work as well as on innovation.

When introducing ICT in the workplace and reorganising work it is important not to change only specific elements, often with the aim of achieving short term economic benefits, but to adopt a holistic view taking into account the whole working situation including the social elements and the balance with private life. Good examples exist and research projects provide also a good potential for improvement of working conditions.

Older workers have to tackle the specific situation of changing functional performances and to adapt to new challenges of the knowledge society. The accessibility and usability of ICT as well as the use of potential assistive technologies are important areas for further development.

A sector of particular interest is the health sector which depends more and more on information systems. An essential basis for good working conditions and at the same time for high quality health services is a high qualification of health professionals in the use of new technologies. This knowledge is needed at all levels including less qualified personnel. Due to the rapid organisational and knowledge changes which have taken place, vocational skills now need to be continuously updated.

The health situation of European citizens has constantly improved. ICT has the potential to enable further improvements. Health and health care will be supported more and more by the use of ICT systems which meet the needs of citizens, patients, healthcare professionals, healthcare providers and policy makers ("eHealth").

Modern health care is based on new service models like "seamless care" which puts the patient at the centre of service networks.

eHealth can assist health professionals by providing mechanisms for client case management and efficient sharing of patient information among care professionals. It has the capacity to monitor and protect public health through better health surveillance. Furthermore, citizens can be better informed by high quality health-related information services which can provide online access to health information and support communities concerned with health related services.

Patients can test their specific health conditions, using e-devices in their own home (referred to as patient self-management or telemedicine). Many senior citizens may, if they become housebound, benefit from the new possibilities of medical self-management, as well as continued connection to clinicians and contact with other patients. eHealth can also enhance the social inclusion of disadvantaged persons.

Most EU Member States have recently launched national and regional eHealth programmes. However the impact of eHealth implementation differs across Europe. Public action aimed at guaranteeing access for all regardless of income and wealth to health information and services will need to ensure accessibility of health resources through multiple channels making infrastructure and digital skills available to all citizens, including those at risk of exclusion, and ensuring compliance of health related sites with eAccessibility standards, as well as supporting control on the quality of information online and to ensuring security, privacy and confidentiality of data.

Moreover, in order to facilitate the free movement of citizens and to give easier access within the EU to the different health care systems, a first European health insurance card has been created which is initially aimed at replacing the paper forms needed for temporary stays. This should also reduce administrative procedures.

The full version of this ESDIS working document is available.

Additional Information

See also: ESDIS - Background and activities