Sílvia Bravo (Ubik Media)
Wednesday, 17 November saw the start of the first edition of the UOC's The eHealth What If Forum, which discussed the people at the core of the digital transformation of health: healthcare professionals and the public.
In her opening speech for this series, Marta Aymerich, the UOC's vice president for Strategic Planning and Research, referred to this initiative as a natural response to the eHealth Center's mission: academic debate on digital health and its transformative impact, from the point of view of research and innovation and with an interdisciplinary vision ranging from the field of medical sciences to psychological, social and educational perspectives.
In the first session, which was held under the title "New digital strategies focused on health and the individual", the panel of speakers featured digital health promotion experts from three Spanish regions – Denia in the Valencian region, Cantabria and the Basque Country – as well as DKV representing the private sector.
The debate started with the question "What if the digitalization accelerated by COVID-19 enabled us to transform health systems?", as well as with the paradigm shift fostered by ICTs through the provision of new tools for professionals and health management solutions for the public for use not only in response to illness but to achieve well-being and prevention at all times.
The four experts agreed in stressing that the acceleration of digital health tools and processes as a result of the pandemic has been a double-edged sword. On the one hand, telemedicine and remote working tools, as well as citizen support and collaboration systems for healthcare professionals, were put in place on a huge scale. But, on the other, we weren't ready to cope with the extra patients and consultations that could not be dealt with in person due to lockdown and the overloaded system, which means that these digital solutions were not enough to enable us to meet all needs.
If anyone had any doubts regarding the usefulness of digital health, the pandemic has clearly shown that it is not just useful but key to meeting the great health challenges. However, many patients perceived this digitalization as no more than a way to replace face-to-face services with online services that, to make matters worse, were not always seen as providing quality. In fact, according to the experts, the implementation of a digital health system is in no way intended to replace face-to-face care, but instead aims to improve it by providing higher-quality spaces.
In relation to this, the sudden and unplanned increase in the digitalization of services and protocols significantly highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of existing projects, which helped improve the global strategy to achieve a global and in-depth digital transformation of the system.
The experts emphasized the potential of data analysis for epidemiology management and even to help organize resources between healthcare facilities, although they also mentioned the need for smarter data collection and analysis to simplify processes and concentrate efforts on using the right data to help us address the main problems.
However, the need to work on a large scale has also revealed the weakest aspects of many digital health solutions: usability and accessibility. Some tools that had been around for a while failed to succeed due to barriers to downloading them or to the public's hesitancy due to the privacy of the data that had to be shared in order to start using them.
In fact, ignorance regarding the new tools and protocols resulted in mistrust and reluctance not just among the general public but also among professionals, who approached them with uncertainty rather than as a way to help handle an already difficult situation.
There have always been two sides to the debate on the improvements to be applied to these digital health tools. Firstly, the need to put people, be they health system workers or users, at the heart of this transformation in order to focus on actual, relevant problems. And secondly, the need to transform the system from the bottom up, because this is a very significant transformation: we need new professional profiles, new ways to train healthcare staff, tools to empower the public, new data analysis algorithms and new laws to regulate these activities.
This is why the experts at this first session of the UOC's The eHealth What If Forum repeatedly called for professionals and users to be included in the system every step of the way: from drawing up the strategy to its implementation.
A debate with: Corpus Gómez, Head of HR at Marina Salud, Denia; Santiago García, General Manager of Digital Transformation and User Relations at the Cantabria Regional Ministry of Health; Mikel Ogueta, Deputy Director's Office for Quality and Information Systems, Osakidetza (Basque public health service); and Elena Torrente, Deputy Director of Digital Health Development and Head of DKV Digital Health Innolab.
Moderated by: Albert Barberà, Director of the UOC's eHealth Center.
You can also listen to the experts' answers to questions such as:
- The question from the public: Does digital health necessarily have to replace face-to-face care?