Technology should not override the human side of medicine

Posted on: 08.01.2018

The TIC Salut Foundation in Catalonia works to advance the digitisation of the health and social sectors and it is a respected observer of the new trends in healthcare. In a conversation with Dr Francesc Garcia Cuyàs, Director of the Foundation, we found out about the 2017 digital health trends and what we can expect to see in 2018.

Q: Which digital health trends will stand out in 2018?

A: We believe that “digital therapies” will become important in the treatment of certain conditions. Virtual reality and augmented reality are good examples of that. They will be new therapeutic options and they will promote innovative learning and simulation environments.

Right now, the TIC Salut Foundation is working on a project to treat agoraphobia with virtual reality. The treatment will be available both at the mental health centre and at the patient’s home. Artificial Intelligence (AI) will also become an important discipline in 2018. AI has the power to identify healthcare trends but we must make sure that the algorithms used are scientifically proved, otherwise we could create a dangerous situation.

Q: Will technology alienate the patient from the doctor?

A: Absolutely not, technology should not override the human side of medicine. Human contact is necessary, we should keep the physical and emotional contact with the patient. In this regard, home-based care will become increasingly important. The goal will be to keep the patient out of hospital while keeping the human side of medicine.

Q: Recently, TIC Salut presented the new Digital Health Map (Mapa de Tendències). What is the goal of this project?

A: The Digital Health Map is a survey we started ten years ago to identify the technological evolution of healthcare organisations in Catalonia. The Map shows which technologies are being introduced and which are the needs. At the same time, it is a useful tool for private companies to identify developments and services that the administration needs.

Q: Which trends have you observed in 2017?

A: On the one hand, we have seen that the use of cloud is on the rise to optimise the work of the organisations. On the other hand, we have detected a 10% increase of telemonitoring for complex patients. Furthermore, mobile apps are becoming an emerging trend. There is a demand among healthcare professionals to use these tools with patients. At the same time, doctors are cautious as apps are a new way of working and they want to make sure they are really beneficial for patients.

Q: Who is more interested in the use of mobile apps: the citizen or the healthcare professional?

A: Both. Professionals wish to be near the patient and have more data about his/her health, and mobile apps allow this. Citizens want more information and to feel more in control.

Q: The use of health mobile apps is one of the priorities of TIC Salut in 2018. What steps are you taking to achieve this?

A: Two years ago, we started the App Salut (Health App) project that promotes the prescription and recommendation of health apps in the public health system. Our organisation certifies apps to ensure we only prescribe useful ones. The certification process takes into account four areas: security, usability, data privacy and scientifically proved content. We work in collaboration with different organisations: the Medical College of Physicians (COMB), the Nursing College and Nursing Society, the Primary Care Society (CAMFIC), the College of Clinical Psychologists and the College of Physical Education and Sports Science. If the app gets certified, it will be integrated into the Primary Care electronic system (eCap) and will be added to an open portal. We started a pilot in October and the results have been excellent so mobile apps will be routinely integrated into the health system.

Q: The DPax project (Digital Patient Experience) is focused on improving patient’s experience with technology. Tell us more about the project.

A: DPax stems from a request in the Health Plan 2016-2020: the digital transformation of the health system. Our work consists in analysing health processes while including the needs of all the stakeholders, among them the citizen-patient, who is the most important of all. This way we understand the needs of the patient and we introduce technological tools that facilitate his/her experience. Including the citizen in the healthcare team is key and is working really well.

Q: What kind of patients participate in the DPax project?

A: For now we are working with diabetes, COPD and cerebral ictus patients. We are going to include oncology and home-based care in the near future. We are also working in the digitisation of Primary Care, with the goal to improve patient experience. We have developed the tools for a doctor and a patient to communicate online. This service has been widely accepted as it is of great comfort for the patient. Now we want to extend the service into specialised care.

Q: How do patients and doctors connect online?

A: We built a secure platform that allow patient and doctor to talk through a chat. We ruled out video conference because of the complex technicalities. Email was not an option as it has security issues.

Q: You are planning the launch of the Digital Health Observatory. What is the purpose of this new entity?

A: We want to gather knowledge, experiences, surveys… Our goal is to explore what is happening in the digital health sector to interpret and disseminate this knowledge. We would like to become a benchmark center in the dissemination of digital health. We are planning to launch the Observatory in March 2018.

The TIC Salut Foundation will be a key partner at our HIMSS Europe & Health 2.0 Conference in May 2018.

Teresa Bau

Healthcare Communications Consultant