Telemedicine was at the heart of the ninth edition of the Digital Health Connect conference, held on Wednesday at the Clinique romande de réadaptation in Sion. International experts, notably from Israel and the United States, shared their opinions, hopes and fears in relation to remote medicine, which has really taken off since the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis. Telemedicine opens the field of possibilities, but both patients and caregivers want to keep the human dimension. Technology alone will not be enough.
About 180 people participated in Digital Health Connect, organized by Swiss Digital Health, The Ark Foundation and the HES-SO Valais/Wallis. Dr. Galia Barkai, CEO of Sheba Beyond, Israel’s first virtual hospital, opened the conference with a plea for telemedicine. According to her, technology will always be ahead of the healthcare system and the human. But we shouldn’t be afraid of losing the human touch. “On the contrary, and the Covid crisis has shown this: clinicians have moved closer to patients. That’s what we try to do every day. Remote management of childhood obesity, ultrasounds of pregnant women performed directly by patients under the supervision of a remote doctor, long-term psychiatric support: examples of concrete applications are legion at Sheba Beyond. According to Galia Barkai, it is now time to put telemedicine on an equal footing with traditional medicine.
Wearables, yes, but also user education
Katarzyna Wac, director of the QoL Technologies Lab, based at the University of Geneva and Copenhagen, is also aware of the necessary cohabitation between technology and humans. Her laboratory has analyzed a wide range of portable tools related to health. These elements are very useful between two medical consultations. According to her, the miniaturization of these devices opens great opportunities. But the human factor remains a key element, especially in educating people to use them. In any case, the approach must be primarily human-centered to obtain convincing results.
The conference continued with a remote presentation by Dr. Yves Nordmann, an Israeli-Swiss physician and serial entrepreneur in the field of digital health. He has created many companies based on mobile applications, including the latest one, Docdok Health. According to him, it is necessary to use a hybrid approach in the field of telemedicine, with a mix of human intervention and technology. It’s also important to bring different applications together on one platform and to do so in partnership with healthcare partners. “We need partner ecosystems to succeed. It’s also necessary for any telemedicine application to demonstrate that you are making an impact and that you can make the best use of data to serve patients and healthcare professionals.” The big trend right now is related to the electronic patient record, which patients need to stay in control of. “This is the next evolution to be achieved, even if the Big Techs are already partly on the case,” concludes Yves Nordmann.
Four discussion tables
Discussion tables took place during the afternoon. The first one, moderated by Pascal Tritz, brought together experts from the Valais Hospital (Dr. Grégoire Gex), the Centre médico-social des coteaux du soleil (Arnaud Zufferey) and the Hôpital Fribourgeois (Christophe Bosteels), in relation to hospital care at home. Since the coronavirus crisis, the hospitals have set up home consultations, to the great satisfaction of the patients. Patients are willing to share their data as long as the tools are entrusted to health professionals. On the physician side, however, there are concerns about liability, since with technology, they potentially have access to all patient data. What happens if something goes wrong? Should they have anticipated everything, given their access to data? Furthermore, some “gadgets” that are supposed to facilitate home care are not always relevant. Like an automatic pillbox, which is catastrophic for patients who already feel very alone on a daily basis. It is clearly a loss of value in this case.
The second panel discussed the remote monitoring of athletes. Moderated by Bertrand Léger of the Clinique romande de réadaptation, it welcomed Lucas Malcotti, world fencing champion, Michael Duc (Swiss Olympic Medical Center) and Philipp Caretta (Force8). In terms of monitoring and coaching of athletes, the speakers wondered if it was possible to do everything remotely. The unanimous opinion was that a hybrid model is very important and should not be based solely on one platform. Again, despite advances in technology, the human factor remains paramount, including in this area.
The third panel discussed new digital therapeutics. Moderated by Dawn Haughton-Bonine, Head of Communications at Debiopharm, it featured Lauri Sippola, CEO of Kaiku Health. He said higher survival rates and improved quality of life are the result of using digital therapeutics, especially in the treatment of cancer. But, according to Dr. Galia Barkai of Sheba Beyond, it is crucial that the technical infrastructure and administration are well thought out in order to decrease the workload for physicians. For his part, Ralf Molitor, CEO of Helsana HealthInvest, spoke about insurers’ support for these digital therapeutics. “As an insurer, we are quite limited in supporting digital therapeutics. It is possible to sponsor research or else go through supplementary insurance. We can also invest in start-ups. But this should be seen as an independent role of the health insurance company that we are.
The last round table was moderated by Michael Schumacher, professor at the HES-SO Valais/Wallis, on the topic of remote modification of health behaviors. The company MindMaze participated, as did the University Hospital of Zurich and the AISLab of the HES-SO Valais/Wallis.
Kaiser Permanente and its innovative model to conclude
To conclude this day rich in content and discussion, Karin Cooke, Director of Kaiser Permanente International presented the innovative model of her company. Patients purchase their health insurance from the company and have access to the company’s own medical centers. Everything is also accessible via a mobile app. “Our goal is to provide care where you are, at home. Virtual connections are used to guide patients to the best care for them.” Kaiser Permanente introduced video consultations back in 2015, for example. “At the time, there was little interest, but everything has changed since the Covid-19 pandemic. The demand is there and patients find it very convenient, especially since the costs are lower, for equal or better care at home than in the hospital.”
The next Digital Health Connect, the tenth edition, is scheduled for fall 2022. Information at www.digitalhealthconnect.ch.