Despite the current economic downturn, our National Health System remains a highly efficient organization with elevated standards of quality. The General Healthcare Law (1986) promoted the universal access to healthcare services thanks to a tax-based funding scheme (instead of one based on the Social Security system). It also allowed the creation of a new organization of healthcare services which was closer to the citizen, thanks to the transfer of healthcare administration to the regional governments.
New drugs, new medical technologies and the commitment of our professionals have allowed us to gradually modernize healthcare services and improve the services provided to the citizens. However, there is still the risk that the advances of the latest decades are stalled, or, even worse, that there is a regression caused by demographic changes, the ageing of the population, an increase of chronic diseases, and the cost of new drugs and medical technologies. All of these factors, which are shared with other countries in our immediate vicinity, could make untenable the healthcare system we know.
Another factor that should be taken into account is that we can no longer consider healthcare and social services separately, as a great majority of patients require both services. Without the lack of necessary coordination, not only will we have patients with worsening health, but also an unsustainable cost of healthcare services.
One of the changes currently taking place in our society is the digitalization of data, which, together with globalization and universality facilitated by the internet, is changing the way in which we live, work and enjoy life. Although these changes are having an impact on most services, it has failed to make an impact in the fields of social and healthcare services.
Without a doubt, this is partly due to the consequence of the great complexity of healthcare systems, which are formed by stakeholders, governments, administration, regulatory bodies, public or private insurance companies, government committees, healthcare professionals, patients, pharmaceutical, biotechnology and medical device industries, etc.
A number of studies endorse digitalization of healthcare services, not only because of the benefits for citizens/patients, but also because it might lead to important savings. This would be due to the use of e-medicine services, patient monitoring (either from home or elsewhere), medication adherence, virtual consultation, avoidance of duplicating diagnostic tests, and the ability to foment healthy lifestyles through personalized programs.
Healthcare digitization empowers citizens/patients, thus improving their health and life quality, allowing them to be an active agent in their healthcare, to keep a healthy lifestyle or to correctly manage their condition. In turn, it provides increased safety to healthcare professionals because they can remotely monitor the evolution of their patient, saving unnecessary visits, guaranteeing access to the information from consultation with other physicians, and avoiding conflicting medications as well as duplicated diagnostic tests or prescriptions. Digital health facilitates the professionals’ work and gives greater security to patients.
Healthcare systems generate large amounts of information that, on one hand, should be used to personalize healthcare, and, on the other, to provide materials for clinical research. This is known as “Big Data”, an area not yet clearly defined, but nevertheless with great potential. Although there are a series of barriers, legal issues and ethical aspects that we must face to find the adequate solutions, it is a sample of the future that digital technologies offer us.
The question is: if there is evidence of a positive impact with digital healthcare in the professional practice, in healthcare management or in patient condition, as well as resource savings, why don’t we move in that direction? Why are healthcare and social services not digitalized, when most of the other services have been already digitalized?
These are some of the barriers we have identified:
- The need of clinical evidence and their social and economic impact
- Interoperability and digital solution standards
- Safety in information transmission
- Safe personal access to healthcare data
- The speed with which technical changes take place; how can we be sure that the technology currently available is adequate versus more advanced technology within a few months
- The business model
And, most particularly:
- The management of organizational changes and the changing roles of professionals associated with the implementation of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs).
In order to inform, debate, facilitate and accelerate the implementation of digital solutions in the Spanish Health and social services, a group of professionals from various regions and fields (care, management, economics, technology, legal, consulting, etc.), have decided to create a professional, non-profit association under the name of SALUD DIGITAL.
OBJETIVES OF THE ASSOCIATION
- To bring together professionals from multiple fields who are innovating in the healthcare technologies fields, in order to share ideas, projects and experience.
- To clarify the actual implementation of ICTs in Spain and that of the advances carried out in recent years.
- Determine a common outlook of the future of the ICTs in the Spanish healthcare system.
- Invite all regional and national administrations to establish objectives and to adopt precise action plans that would consolidate Spain as a leading European country in the field of e-health.
- Cooperate with the private healthcare sector to take the necessary steps towards a gradual digitisation of the services they provide.
- Promote healthcare digitisation as a citizen-empowering tool for the management of their overall health and healthcare.
- Cooperate with the industry and healthcare organisations’ decision makers to define business models that will support the sustainability of the healthcare system.
ICT fields in which SALUD DIGITAL will operate.-
We intend to approach ICTs issues from a functional and technologic perspective. In this way, we will identify functional areas for the implementation of ICTs such as:
- Social and healthcare coordination.
- Management of chronicity.
- Primary care. Community care. Prevention and promotion of healthcare.
- Mental healthcare.
- Specialized care.
- Occupational Health.
Furthermore, we will study the suitability of the following ICT areas on the aforementioned functional areas:
- Big Data.
- Remote monitoring; Implementation and use of devices and wearables.
- Social networks.
- Patient identification.
- Personal healthcare folder.
Thus, for instance, for a functional area such as CHRONICITY MANAGEMENT, we will study the implementation of each of the ICTs areas to reach an evidence-based conclusion on which is the best implementation.
- SALUD DIGITAL has organized work groups for specific issues composed of experts and managers to write “papers” to define strategies and actions for the National Healthcare System.
- In certain subjects, there will be meetings of experts to debate and define sets of guidelines.
- The members of SALUD DIGITAL will hold annual meetings to evaluate the work carried out so far, approve draft proposals and set objectives for the next year.
Our mission is to promote the dissemination of scientific knowledge, to create a multidisciplinary debate forum for the analysis of the barriers for the implementation of Digital Health.
A vanguard professional association, which will be an international and national reference in Digital Healthcare. Constituted by multidisciplinary and multisector groups from this field, the vision is to contribute to the dissemination of independent scientific knowledge and to promote scientific culture and its implementation in social and healthcare environments in an efficient, sustainable and permanent way.
Independence, unity, participation, solidarity, multidisciplinary approach.