The internet offers a wide range of tools and services known as e-health services, including informative web pages, health tracking apps, and telemedicine. These tools are utilized by both healthcare professionals and patients, and their usage has significantly increased in recent years.
The professional segment of the e-health industry brings valuable benefits to patients, society, and healthcare as a whole. It contributes to scientific advancements, enables closer monitoring, facilitates rapid knowledge sharing, and offers economic advantages. For instance, patients can save time by avoiding unnecessary general practitioner (GP) appointments, and more patients can receive faster treatment.
However, the Danish Patient Safety Authority acknowledges the need to remain vigilant regarding the less professional segment of the industry. The quality of apps and web pages within this segment can potentially jeopardize patient safety. In Denmark, doctors are required to verify the identity of patients before initiating treatment. Unfortunately, we have observed numerous instances of foreign websites selling medicines without proper verification of the consumer's identity, including the patient's name and health condition.
In Denmark, the Danish Patient Safety Authority has the authority to monitor e-health services managed by healthcare professionals with Danish authorization or Danish healthcare organizations. Specific rules apply to doctors' use of telemedicine. However, the authority lacks the power to monitor web pages, apps, and similar services managed outside Denmark, which may or may not be approved by a notified body—a private company authorized by national authorities to approve apps for CE marking.
This means that Danish patients can use websites and apps that might have been approved by other countries and essentially serviced by foreign staff. In such cases, the Danish Patient Safety Authority cannot directly intervene, and therefore, patients cannot file complaints or receive compensation. However, the authority can approach the country overseeing the web page or app to address any significant patient-related issues that have come to its attention.
We advise patients to keep the following points in mind:
- Web pages and apps do not provide a comprehensive view of your health. The diagnosis or treatment offered through an e-health service may affect other treatments you are currently receiving.
- It is advisable to inform your GP or healthcare professional if you have used services from a website or app. This information can be taken into account for your ongoing treatment, if necessary.
- Consider the level of data privacy provided by the website or app for the information you submit.
- Assess the overall safety of the website or app.
The Danish Medicines Agency also offers valuable guidance to citizens when purchasing medicines online. It is particularly important to look for the green EU logo on a website to ensure its legal operation.
Furthermore, the Danish Medicines Agency has issued guidance to help consumers determine whether a health app is considered a medical device. If a health app is classified as a medical device, it will bear the CE mark, which is valid throughout the EU.
Supervisory focus on e-health is crucial for the following reasons:
- Healthcare and disease treatment must remain safe even in the context of e-health services.
- Healthcare and disease treatment are increasingly reliant on e-health, which is growing rapidly. Therefore, it is vital to raise awareness of the associated risks.
- In the future, patients will have significantly more control over their health through e-health programs.