Discussing digitalization in healthcare at the Soa*Hiv*Seks Conference

On Friday the 23rd of November the Dutch national congress on STIs, HIV and sex took place in Amsterdam. With this year’s theme “Together to a breakthrough”, we were welcomed to host a workshop on the challenges of digitalization in healthcare and how we can reach the last mile with digital efforts.

Digitalization in healthcare is a fact and worldwide innovations follow each other rapidly. A select group of people with experience or a special interest in digitalization in their field of work participated in the workshop. We started by sharing some “fun facts” about the subject. Did you know that in January 2018 53% of all people on the planet were connected to the internet? Especially the use of internet on phones is growing rapidly: with 14% growth from 2017 to 2018. The biggest annual growth rate in smartphone data use is taking place in the Middle East and Africa. In most African countries people have a more optimistic view on the use of new technologies, than people in European countries or North America. This was not reflected in the workshop attendants of which 80% indicated to be optimistic! The growing number of people with access to the internet plus the digital optimism offer opportunities for our work!

The digital transformation in healthcare coincides with other trends. Healthcare is no longer for the patient: it is with the patient. Patients are the point of care, as opposed to the clinic or the lab. Patients own their own health data instead of their physicians or the hospital and the relationship between healthcare provider and patient is more of equality and partnership. The importance of self-management is obvious to all. This brought us to the world of health smartphone applications. The number of health apps is daily increasing. Although there is enough to choose from, the questions remains: what works? Of the 325.000 apps only a very small percentage is very successful (ie the number of downloads and monthly active users).

Health[e]Foundation is developing a new self-management app: MyHealth@Hand. We shared our experiences and challenges with the group. MyHealth@Hand is a self-management tool for pregnant women and mothers. The app enables women to store and access their personal health data, find personalized information about how to stay healthy during and after their pregnancy and stimulates efficient communication with their healthcare providers. As we have seen in the huge differences between the number of times health apps are often downloaded and their actual usage, we also feel that motivating clients and healthcare workers to start using and, maybe even more importantly, keep using MyHealth@Hand might be a challenge.

During a ‘brainwriting’ exercise, all the challenges the group suggested concerning experiences in their own work with smartphone health apps were listed. Security, privacy and consent issues, internet coverage (how to reach those living the last mile), acquiring and retaining users, sustainability and the need for contextualization of content were mentioned. Of course, there was not enough time to discuss all, but a new start was made to connect people and organizations experiencing similar challenges. We look forward to meet up again in 2019, together we can do more!