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Karolina Mackiewicz, ECHAlliance

Bleddyn Rees, The Digital Health Society Chair

The 4th Digital Health Society Summit that took place in October 2022 gathered almost 1000 participants from more than 95 countries. The overarching theme of the 2022 edition was “Data & Digital services to support the recovery of health systems across the globe”. More than a month after the event, Karolina Mackiewicz, Innovation Director at ECHAlliance sits with Bleddyn Rees, Chair of Digital Health Society to reflect on the discussions held at and lessons learnt from the Summit. 

KM: In your opening speech, you referred to the “message of hope” in relation to the potential of data and digital services to support recovery of health systems. Where does this hope come from? 

BR: One of the many positives to emerge from the pandemic was the importance of real time health data for public health. Across the world citizens watched the graphs and leant about the “R” number. The importance of data science and analytics was clear for all to see. Regions and countries shared health data and the potential for this sharing was demonstrated. I am optimistic that the potential for sharing health for primary and secondary uses has been illustrated and the timing is perfect to help encourage the European Health Data Space to be an important success for European citizens and health systems.

I believe Europe has a once in a generation opportunity to transform health care services. The prospect of a European Health Data Space and a Health Union is a chance we must all grab with both hands and make a resounding success. In the European Union we have elections in 2024 and now more than I can remember in my lifetime people need hope and leaders who rise above personal, organisational and national interests to promote the right actions for mankind and society.

The hope for health data is simply expressed in a quote from the UK Goldacre Review “Patient records contain all the noise from millions of lifetimes. Perfect, subtle, signals can be coaxed from this data, and those signals go far beyond mere academic curiosity. They represent deeply buried treasure that can help prevent suffering and death, around the planet, on a biblical scale. It is our collective duty to make this work.”

KM: Was there something that surprised you at the DHSS 2022? 

BR: The number of registrations from countries outside Europe and the diversity of those people and organisations. At the start of the pandemic the ECHAlliance launched the Global Health Connector Partnership and I never imagined that in only a few months it would take off leading to the creation of Ecosystems in South America, India and Africa. Healthcare knows no borders and it is so exciting to see the opportunities to learn from these countries where for example India has a scale which Europe cannot match and Africa the ability to lead with frugal innovation and deployment. 

KM: What do you think participants consider to be the main challenges for data and digital services in the near future, let’s say towards 2030? 

BR: We heard very clearly about:

  1. The shortage of healthcare professionals and the need for digital to step up and ease the burden of the staff as well as make their jobs easier, not harder. Digital technology must under promise and over deliver.
  2. Skills training for both digital and data for everyone healthcare professionals, patients, carers and policy makers. This requires the development of curricula at all levels for everyone. Digital health must leave no one behind so healthcare must work with other industries who are fostering improved digital skills e.g financial services.
  3. Burnout for healthcare workers and morale. We need to bring greater joy and fulfillment back to the workplace for them.
  4. Access to health data and trust (compliance).

KM: What would you select as the main take-away message from this year’s edition of the Summit? What do you want people to remember? 

BR: I would say “digital health is the global connector for health and care systems and services”. To go far, we need to go together, which means greater collaboration between organisations and countries is essential to meet the global healthcare challenges and the Global Health Connector Partnership is ideally placed to help.

Every crisis generates opportunities and the pandemic achieves in months what would have taken years without it. This knowledge and innovation has to be captured and not lost. The digital health acceleration must not slow or recede. Finally, as the Digital Health Society has collaborated with the EU Presidencies, it’s important that the Summit is a great opportunity to provide greater communication to EU citizens  about the work they do on healthcare initiatives. 

KM: 2022 is almost behind us. What’s next for the Digital Health Society? What are the plans for 2023? 

BR: We will have an even busier year in 2023 as we support the Global Health Connector Partnership flagship events including in Africa, Europe (our Digital Health & Wellness Summit at MWC in February in Barcelona), India, and in the US (with ATA and HLTH). The launch of HLTH Europe in Amsterdam in 2024 will require a lot of planning in 2023 as HLTH is an important partner for us.

The continuing increase of the number of attendees from around the globe as the ECHAlliance grows the Global Health Connector Partnership which in turn means we must ensure the content of the Summit matches the interests of this broader audience. I expect 2023 will feature green health, consumer and wellbeing health, women’s health and the latest news on EHDS.

I am excited about the “Shift Left Stay Left 10x” strategy Martin Curly from the Irish Health Service Executive has been promoting at the UN and how the digital and data theme of the Global Health Connector Partnership could support that work. The DHS leads the Digital ad Data theme so this should generate strategy and innovation opportunities for  both our members and the wider health systems and organisations.

Save the date for the Digital Health Society Summit 2023 on November 14-15.