In December, the 2012 EHTEL symposium explored, amongst other things, user perspectives in the domain of digital health. It was an opportunity to learn about new developments in eHealth and how they can help address health inequalities and improve access, particularly regarding less literate and disadvantaged population groups for whom the digital divide is still a reality.
Following an introduction of the conference theme - ’’The Future of eHealth is already here’’ - overview presentations were provided by Anna Maria Darmanin, Vice-President at the European Economic and Social Committee (whose Opinion on Enhancing digital literacy, e-skills and e-inclusion was released in July 2011) and Peteris Zilgalvis, head of unit at the European Commission’s DG Connect who presented the Commission’s key eHealth policies and talked about the new eHealth Action Plan 2012-2020.
This was followed by Niels Boye of the University of Aarhus (Denmark), who talked about the co-production of health in the context of shifting roles and responsibilities created by new technologies. He stated that co-production spans the entire ’’digital health continuum’’ – the citizen is the point of coordination and the evidence based knowledge utilisation. Co-production of health means that health considerations and knowledge can be embedded and utilised in any activity in society. The idea is that synergies between professional healthcare, self-care, informal care, and the commodity segment will be turned into “health added value” for the individual human being.
A practical example was given by Rachelle Kaye, Director at Maccabi Health Services, Israel who shared her insights on linking patients, caregivers and all healthcare actors as experienced in a multidisciplinary telecentre for chronically ill patients.
Of particular interest from a health inequalities perspective was the session on "Innovating Continuity of Care, Health and Wellbeing - achieving citizen/patient involvement". An insightful presentation, albeit from an industry perspective, was given by Jurriaan van Rijswijk of the Games for Health Europe Foundation (Netherlands), who showed how easy-to-use ’’health games’’ can make a contribution to better health literacy, especially (but not exclusively) amongst their main users in the under-40 age group. He also stated that gaming is good for brain-hand coordination and therefore even recommended for certain health professionals such as surgeons where such skills are essential. Many new sports-oriented games for home consumption also encourage physical activity, while a playful approach to designing urban environments can help change people’s behaviours. However, the evidence base for games’ effectiveness - e.g. games designed for Alzheimer patients - has not yet been established. The scientific ’’Games for Health’’ journal is trying to change this.
This was followed by a presentation of the European Health Apps Directory given by Alex Wyke of PatientView UK who stated that smartphones and apps are increasingly being used by even the most vulnerable and hard-to-reach groups, often experiencing health inequalities due to lack of digital and health literacy, as identified in the EPHA Briefing on eHealth. By equipping these segments of the population with continuous, up-to-date healthcare services and free apps, there is potential to provide them with better healthcare services and bridge literacy gaps as traditional literacy skills are becoming less relevant in mHealth environments. However, the health app market in particular is still in need of consolidation and there are thousands of solutions only used by very few people. The Directory presents the 200 most important ones selected by patient groups and individuals.
The next session entitled "Ubiquitous eHealth services - linking citizens, patients and professionals everywhere" provided examples of how disease-specific health stakeholders can be linked through new technology, including apps, e.g. in the area of diabetes care, through telestroke services, telemedicine services for chronic heart patients, and telemonitoring devices.
Two parallel break-out sessions dealt with the user perspectives on the digital health continuum, one from the citizens’ and patients’ view and one from the health professionals’ and healthcare providers’ view. Notably, this included presentations by Walter Atzori of the European Patients’ Forum on the Relationship of eHealth and Health Literacy, and a presentation by EPHA member Paul de Raeve, Secretary General the European Federation of Nurses Associations (EFN) on the nurses’ perspective of changing work load and work patterns.
For further information
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