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The UOC holds the first eHealth What If Forum, an opportunity to think about the future of digital technology and health
  The eHealth What if Forum 2021

The first eHealth What if Forum will try to answer the following question: What if the digitization accelerated by COVID-19 enabled us to transform health systems? (Photo: UOC)

Jesús Méndez/Sònia Armengou

This new series of events, organized by the University's eHealth Center (eHC), will debate the lessons learned during the pandemic

Albert Barberà, director of the UOC's eHC: "In the wake of this pandemic, we have an opportunity to accelerate digital health and to reflect upon what we have learned, because not everything has been positive"

The first "The eHealth What If Forum" series begins on 17 November, 15.30h (CET). This initiative, organized by the eHealth Center of the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC), will take place annually, and its mission is to foster debate on various issues associated with health and digital technology. The title and main underlying idea in this first edition is the question: "What if the digitalization accelerated by COVID-19 enabled us to transform health systems?"

"The idea is to create a scenario in which we are capable of imagining what the immediate future would be like if the paradigm shift in health promoted by the eHealth Center actually happened. That's why it is structured around the conditional question of What if?", noted Marta Aymerich, Vice President for Strategic Planning and Research at the UOC. Because "in addition to carrying out its own research into the interaction between technology and health, the eHealth Center has the mission of promoting the digital transformation of the system to help ensure that it really does focus on the patient and is personalized, participative, preventative and sustainable," added Albert Barberà, director of the eHealth Center.


A flash in the pan or the beginning of a transformation of the health systems

Digital health is a concept that incorporates information and communication technologies (ICT) into healthcare products, services and processes, and in organizations or institutions that can improve the public's health and wellbeing. It can encompass various technologies, including portable devices, sensors, mobile health apps, artificial intelligence, robot caregivers, etc. COVID-19 has made us consider some of the challenges we face in health, "and I believe that digital health can help find the answers", argued Aymerich, who is herself a Doctor of Medicine.

A wide range of measures were implemented during the pandemic, some as a result of requirements and others due to the exceptional circumstances, and these now need to be properly assessed. "We have a chance not only to accelerate digital health, but also to think about what we've learned, because not everything has been positive and it is not a cure-all", explained Barberà. "What we have to do now is take advantage of the information we have obtained and avoid ending up where we started. The boom in digital technology in general and telemedicine in particular could be a flash in the pan or the beginning of a transformation which people have been working on for some time," he added.


Three lessons to learn from the pandemic

The series, coordinated by UOC researcher Francesc Saigí, consists of three sessions, which will take place 17 and 24 November and 1 December. The participants will include professionals associated with local and international public administrations such as Marcelo D'Agostino, advisor to the World Health Organization and Senior Advisor on Information Systems and Digital Health at the Pan American Health Organization, as well as researchers, healthcare professionals and patients, who will be aiming to gain a multidisciplinary vision of the direction in which the decisions adopted in the future should be focused. According to Saigí, "these events aim to acknowledge the leading actors who have headed the different digital health initiatives that have been implemented, provide a platform for sharing them and act as a catalyst so that we don't ease off on this digitalization which has been accelerated by COVID-19".

The first session, which will feature an opening speech by Vice President Marta Aymerich, will review the main issues that have arisen in Spain during the pandemic with regard to technology and health. In addition to focusing on specific experiences, there will be a discussion of the foundations upon which the digital transformation should be based.

The second event will focus on a specific healthcare system - Catalonia's. It will consider some of the changes that have taken place over the last year and a half, such as the increase in the number of digital appointments  during the months of the lockdown, and the hundreds of thousands of downloads of the COVID-19 certificate from the "La Meva Salut" (My Health) platform.

Lastly, the third session will focus on the use of telemedicine in Latin American countries during the pandemic, and will debate its potential and the obstacles encountered. The main results of a report, commissioned by the Inter-American Development Bank and produced by the UOC, which has examined many of these aspects with the aim of facilitating international telemedicine in the region, will also be presented.

"Nothing is entirely problem-free, but digital health can deliver health into the hands of any member of the public, thanks, above all, to the Internet. It's an invitation to us to look after our own health, as well as that of the community at large", summarized Aymerich.

"We tend to forget what has happened", acknowledged Barberà. "So this time, let's take advantage of our experiences during the pandemic to see what's worked and what hasn't in digital health. This will help us bring about a positive transformation in the healthcare system", he concluded.


This UOC event supports Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3, Good Health and Well-being9: Industry, innovation and infrastructure; and 17: Partneships for the goals

More information:

Complete programme and speakers  “What If eHealth Forum” series

-Opening Session, 17 November: "New digital strategies focused on health and the individual". Further information and registration. (Online. Spanish)

-Session Two, 24 November: "The digital transformation of the health system in Catalonia". Further information and registration. (Online and on-site at the Palau Macaya, Barcelona. Catalan)

-Session Three, 1 December: Lessons from the pandemic:  more international cooperation, better health. Further information and registration. (Online. Spanish)



The UOC's research and innovation (R&I) is helping overcome pressing challenges faced by global societies in the 21st century, by studying interactions between technology and human & social sciences with a specific focus on the network society, e-learning and e-health.

Over 500 researchers and 51 research groups work among the University's seven faculties and two research centres: the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3) and the eHealth Center (eHC).

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The United Nations' 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and open knowledge serve as strategic pillars for the UOC's teaching, research and innovation. More information: #UOC25years

UOC experts

Photograph of Marta Aymerich Martínez

Marta Aymerich Martínez

Vice President for Strategic Planning and Research

Expert in: Translating research findings into clinical and/or public health practice; evaluating research.

Knowledge area: Public health and research policy.

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Albert Barberà

Director of the eHealth Center (eHC)

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