Technology and courage for equitable, quality digital healthcare

Dia de la salud

If you have a chronic illness or a chronically ill family member, you might remember having to bring medication with you if you were going on vacation in another region. Or if you’re a dutiful child, maybe you have memories of keeping your elderly parents’ medical reports neatly organized in a folder, in case they had a medical emergency in their vacation home. As we get older, time slips away from us like water in our hands, so maybe you think it was decades ago, but it’s actually only been five years since all of us Spaniards with chronic illnesses can pick up our medication at any pharmacy in the country. The year 2019 also saw the integration of all of Spain’s autonomous regions in the Digital Medical History system, which makes it possible to share relevant medical information electronically with any Spanish National Healthcare System (SNS) service upon request from the individual. 

Both achievements speak to the desire and consensus in healthcare management to bring about changes that benefit people’s health, changes that have taken shape thanks to digital technology. On World Health Day, we should be proud of these accomplishments, and also, why not, take the opportunity to call for more. For example, we should call for this collaborative spirit to also lead to the standardization of the supply at all hospital pharmacies, which would free chronically ill patients from having to bring their medication with them when they leave their autonomous region, while contributing to equitable healthcare for everyone, no matter where we live. Healthcare digitalization isn’t just about technology, it’s also about taking brave decisions and being determined to bring about improvements.

Promoting healthcare digitalization

The healthcare sector is not exactly a pioneer when it comes to embracing digitalization, unlike, for example, the financial sector, which is driven by the pressing need to redefine models burdened by cumbersome processes and costs that can be cut back. The risk of being left behind in the face of the emergence of digital native banking was a motivation, just as COVID-19 stimulated other sectors, including the health sector, driving the adoption of digital solutions and accelerating the transformation of these solutions. As can be seen in the IDIS Foundation’s “The Digital Patient Experience 2021” report, which focuses on patients with private health insurance, one of the results of this process is that the more digital patients are, the more they monitor their health and the more they feel that it is improving. Likewise, public healthcare has found that people with greater self-monitoring of their health are the ones who most use the digital tools available to them, taking on a more active role and achieving better progress in relation to their disease. 

On World Health Day, we can be proud of the role of digital technology in healthcare, while bearing in mind that this technology must also come with training programs aimed at specialists and non-digital native patients, as well as underprivileged individuals. For digitalization to be effective, all chronic patients must have solid knowledge and digital skills that allow them to get the most out of the tools available to them. In this regard, we’re also proud of the launch of the 2021-26 Digital Health Strategy, which recognizes how the digitalization of the sector benefits the health of Spaniards, as well as the ability of digital technologies to make the public healthcare system sustainable, implementing specific measures. These include empowering and involving people in their healthcare, maximizing the value of processes to ensure continuity of care, adapting the evolution of the SNS to the demands of today’s society, applying innovation policies aimed at 5P medicine (Population-Based, Preventive, Predictive, Personalized, and Participatory), adopting data management and governance policies that make interoperable and quality information available, and creating a National Health Data Space for the creation of scientific knowledge and the evaluation of services.

EHRs, AI, and data

Among other benefits, digital tools make it possible to take advantage of the health data in patients’ Digital Medical History, enabling progress both in applying personalized medicine and in pharmacological research. AI is capable of extracting information and reaching conclusions from gigantic volumes of data, and can help specialists choose the right therapy for each patient, incorporating various factors that affect their health, such as their lifestyle habits or genetics, as long as the analyses to learn about the parents’ legacy are carried out. 

On World Health Day, we’re also celebrating that the Health Service of Extremadura has set a milestone by incorporating all Extremadurans’ genetic analysis into their EHR, which will undoubtedly improve the health of the population and boost resource management efficiency. This achievement comes as part of the MedeA project, which uses GMV’s artificial intelligence technology to, as Dr. Adrián Llerena, medical leader of the project, puts it, “first of all determine which drugs will be most effective for the patient, find the best combination of all the possible ones and the ideal doses, as well as which drugs should be avoided to avoid adverse reactions and avoid interactions and therapeutic failures.” On World Health Day, we can also call for this project to be expanded to all healthcare systems in our country, with the goal of having an equitable health policy for all Spaniards. 

Why continue prescribing a drug that is poorly absorbed by the patient and doesn’t improve their health, leading to side effects and at the same time wasting money? Or, how can we know if a drug given to mitigate the effects of the climacteric period won’t reduce the effectiveness of the treatment for a chronically ill patient, even to the point of making it useless? A given medication won’t have the same effect on everyone, given that each patient is unique, but quality and equitable digital healthcare can. On World Health Day, we’re proud of all we’ve achieved so far, and hope that courage and determination continue to be the guiding principles of our managers. 

Author: Maole Cerezo

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