The Challenge of digital transformation

Based on my intervention during the 1st Public Health Observatory Symposium, organised by the newspaper El Español on September 10, I would like to share some of the thoughts I was able to contribute to that interesting forum, specifically during the discussion panel dedicated to digital transformation.

When we talk about digital transformation, of the healthcare system and the challenges we face, we must make a diagnosis beyond this crisis that’s been triggered by COVID-19.

The macrotrends within the Health sector are there. We have an increasingly ageing society, and we speak about disease chronicity precisely as a result of this ageing population. There are also three other components or factors that we must know how to redirect or lead in the right direction, to ensure the sustainability and quality of our healthcare system. I’m referring to the introduction of new healthcare and information technologies, the shortage of healthcare professionals and the unsuitable training and experience of current healthcare professionals for the demands of today’s society.

Let’s start at the beginning, along the path that should guide the present and future of our Public Health. Digital transformation must become the system’s springboard.

Likewise, when we talk about our ageing population, we must tackle how we’re going to organise the social-healthcare space that has been (and still is) under so much stress during this pandemic. But we mustn’t resign ourselves to this. We must seek solutions.

Nursing homes must work more closely with the healthcare system, allowing professionals to follow up on residents, especially Primary Care professionals. There’s no need for nursing homes to turn into hospitals, but the Healthcare System must create mechanisms that will allow us to comprehensively follow up on the health of our elderly, the most fragile members of our society, and anticipate risks.

When approaching the chronicity of many diseases, largely due to this ageing population and also because of the advances in treatments, it’s essential to discuss including all the different healthcare levels: from primary care to hospital care, including social-healthcare and home care. As part of the system, we must all share a common vision and outline common strategies for action.

Because there’s no question that we’re heading towards a more predictive and preventive model. It’s important to be one step ahead of circumstances, to anticipate citizens’ health issues, to foresee the progression of their disease… In this sense, primary care must play a fundamental role within the system. Because we’re heading towards a system that, as well as healing, must also take care of and be by people’s side throughout all stages of life.

Which is the role of healthcare professionals within this new model? Through these digital transformation processes that all organisations within the sector are working on, we must disentangle the healthcare professional from more bureaucratic tasks and allow them to focus on what provides citizens with the most value, which is better care, which also entails greater satisfaction and recognition. Therefore, we must leave behind the traditional hospital concept to come home, working hand in hand with primary care, and thus see Public Health in a new light, with a more holistic approach.

To face these issues and enable new solutions, digital transformation is a fundamental platform and an ally to changing the health model, beyond COVID-19.

And these changes and the sector’s necessary evolution have a single objective: the citizens. Because people are going to play a leading role in this transformation. If someone had told us on March 1 that we’d be under lockdown, not just us but our businesses and the entire world, and that we’d be capable of adapting our organisations to working from home in less than 15 days, we wouldn’t have believed it. But we were able to do this and much more, both organisations and people. And this must give us hope, because citizens must take on the leading role in this transformation.

Some say that the population lacks digital culture… We may not know the inner workings of a mobile phone or computer, but we all know that if we want to reach a destination, know the weather forecast or stay in touch with our loved ones, our mobile phone, in short, technology, is indispensable. And that’s also digital culture. Without it, we wouldn’t have survived.

I also firmly believe that this digital transformation will empower citizens, giving them a larger role in managing their health, and making ours a more democratic, open and efficient system.

Technology also makes us more transparent, which involves trust. And digitalisation is key within the British concept of accountability, because transparency makes us more responsible.

In short, we must be capable of doing more and better things.

We can’t forget that digital transformation helps the Health system’s long-term strategies, as well as the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, where goal 3 is good Health and Wellbeing. I believe that these are concepts that we, the agents that work within the system, must all strive for. In addition, goal 17 is partnerships between institutions. I’d add between public and private institutions. Because the goal is to end poverty and provide our citizens with wellbeing, and we shouldn’t place before these main goals nuances, political positions or personal whims that may become an obstacle to reaching these worldwide goals.

These days are highlighting that innovation is linked to public-private collaboration, where we find the pharmaceutical industry, big companies within the healthcare sector that participate in this symposium, and institutions. We all need to work towards common goals, discuss new relationship models between the payer, whether public (such as the State or the Autonomous Communities) or private (such as insurance companies), and suppliers of all kinds (industrial, pharmaceutical, hospital and professional) and, also, reconsider the funder’s relationship with citizens. A new relationship must arise. We must bring to the table the need to share strategies and plans, and change the relationship by moving towards shared risk models, so that we understand everyone’s mission.

Let me finish with some thoughts on this healthcare crisis brought on by COVID-19, which has already been with us for six months, and will most likely stay for some time. It has shown us that, when faced with such a crisis, we should have worked together even more, with a greater joint effort than up until now… I hope that we’ve learnt our lesson and that we’re all aware that, without bringing something to the table, without coming to an understanding, we’re going to struggle to overcome this situation, not only in the field of healthcare, but also in the social and business world. This is the greatest lesson the pandemic has taught us.

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