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"Telemedicine enables access to healthcare services to the communities that might find it challenging, for various reasons, to visit a doctor or a hospital" Stefan says. (image: Stefan Buttigieg)

The Ability Of Technology To Get Healthcare Repaired

Digital health, a long time associated only with technical innovations like EHR, wearables, or telemedicine, is now recognized as a tool supporting disease prevention, health of individuals, health policy. What public health has in common with information and communication technologies? An interview with Stefan Buttigieg, MD, Vice President of the Digital Health Section at the European Public Health Association EUPHA and the Co-Founder of Digital Health Malta.

Where is the link between digital health and public health?

The critical aspect of this question takes me back to the first “Future of Digital Health Systems” Symposium that was organized by the World Health Organisation in February 2019. We need to, first of all, ensure that health systems around the world strive to provide “Digital Health for All,” and this inherently explains the link between digital health and public health.

Digital health transforms the way that public health gets the information, whereas public health enables digital health and ensures that its impact is population-wide rather than just limited to selected individuals or limited audiences.

What was the impulse for the European Public Health Association to set a digital health section?

Digitalization is permeating all aspects of European society. The European Public Health Association, not only wanted to react but wanted to play an active role in this digital transformation of healthcare. The vision and its implementation at the Digital Health section at EUPHA have been in progress for the past 2-3 years.

Where should the priorities set to make the best of digital health solutions in public health?

As outlined in the latest supplement of our European Journal of Public Health, we see digital health solutions having a critical impact through 5 main benefits: 

  • personalization and precision,
  • automation,
  • prediction,
  • data analytics,
  • interaction.

Though, the full potential of digital health will only indeed happen if there is the political commitment, normative and regulatory frameworks, technical and economic infrastructure, training and education, research, and last but not least, monitoring and evaluation. 

Could you please give some examples of how new technologies strengthen community health, empower vulnerable groups of patients, or eliminate health inequalities?

There are many of them, but let’s start with the classic one, I mean telemedicine. Telemedicine enables access to healthcare services to the communities that might find it challenging, for various reasons, to visit a doctor or a hospital. With the power of technology, they get advice not only to cure an ongoing condition but also to prevent diseases. How about mobile health apps? The number of personalized and tailored health education tools is enormous. The full potential will be used when these platforms, with our consent, get connected to our health data.

What is for you, as a medical doctor and expert in public health, so captivating in new technologies?

I’ve always had an affinity towards technologies. The reason could be I’m a millennial, and I was raised in the time of the digital revolution. The reality is, though, that technology has truly changed our lives, the way we communicate, distribute, and receive information. Imagine the transition from word of mouth to written text took approximately 1000 years, whereas the digitalization of society, which is currently underway, has taken roughly about 5 to 6 decades.

When you think about that, from that point of view, humans are adapting much faster than we used to do before, and this only has been possible with our keen interest in understanding these technologies.

There is a threat that digital innovations will improve the health of healthy ones, not the ones who need it most. How to avoid such risks?

Yes, it’s something we have to deal with. We can only mitigate such risks by ensuring that digital health interventions are reimbursed in the same way that analog health services, devices, and medicines are. We must make sure that this era ushers an even more effective and equitable service delivery through intensive education programs, continuous support and fair resource distribution.



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