The Covid-19 crisis has triggered a change in the relationship between healthcare professionals and patients and made technology essential for prevention and precision in healthcare. That’s the message from the experts at the XPatient Barcelona Congress organised by the Eurecat technology centre, Hospital Clínic de Barcelona and the TIC Salut Social Foundation with the support of the XPA Barcelona (Patient Experience) community of practice.

Rosa Romà, director of the Catalan Health Service’s Customer Care, Innovation and Users Unit, pointed to a new relationship as a result of Covid-19 driven by greater autonomy and using digital tools and platforms. “They allow healthcare professionals to be in touch with their patients and monitor them,” she says. “Plus the healthcare system can bring forward information, access and response capacity to give users a much more active role in managing their health as well.”

“We have shifted from technologies which helped to make the system more efficient to technologies that play a key role in it,” says Vicent Ribas, head of the Data Analytics in Medicine research strand at Eurecat’s Digital Health Unit. This includes applications such as “epidemiological surveillance to monitor the evolution of the pandemic and get ahead of the curve.”

“One of the most important lessons learned from the pandemic is that the only way forward is science,” points out Dr Carolina Garcia-Vidal, senior specialist in the Infectious Diseases Department at Hospital Clínic. “And ensuring that this basic principle is not overlooked is one of the biggest challenges.”

Dr Ricard Ferrer, head of the Intensive Care Medicine Department at Vall d’Hebron University Hospital, and Sílvia Roura, assistant manager of the Barcelona Esquerra Primary Healthcare Consortium (CAPSBE) also took part in the roundtable ‘Covid-19: what we have learned and how technology can help us’. The panellists addressed the healthcare system’s challenges in rolling out new technologies shaped by the digital divide and access to patient data.

Non-face-to-face visits after the pandemic?

One of the hot topics is whether lockdown-driven changes during the pandemic will last. Non-face-to-face visits, for example, have mushroomed. Jordi Graupera, a journalist with a PhD in Political Philosophy, addressed the issue of accessibility and using technology and Dr Guillem Serra (MEDIQUO) spoke about the advantages of instant messaging with the option of video consultation and calls. Meanwhile, Dr Olga Mas (CAPSBE) presented data from the INTerACT project with special interest in caregiver health. Advanced practice nurse Carla Cabré (Hospital Clínic) also outlined the ways in which care units such as diabetes units are coping with the restrictions on face-to-face visits. She thinks that a blended model (face-to-face and non-face-to-face) will stay in place as a routine approach.

Dr Manel Vera (Hospital Clínic) and patient Keila Ferriz discussed the role of video visits in the follow-up of peritoneal dialysis patients. Keila Ferriz pointed out how video visits are safer for patients with immunosuppression as they avoid contact with the hospital. In turn, Dr Vera emphasised that quality video visits call for tight scheduling.

Innovative initiatives embracing the patient’s perspective

The congress showcased innovative approaches and methodologies embracing the patient’s perspective which had been chosen in its call for projects together with other initiatives, technologies and lessons drawn from the Covid-19 crisis.

Examples include the I-DTI platform which is digital and accessible from mobile devices and enables communication between healthcare professionals involved in organ, tissue and cell donation and transplants; the EU-PEARL project to shift from the conventional trial approach to an integrated research platform for multiple drugs and collaboration between companies; and the NESTORE project which uses technological tools to build the viewpoint of the elderly into research.

Artificial Intelligence, the ‘industrial revolution’ in the healthcare industry

Artificial Intelligence “is going to be the ‘industrial revolution’ in the healthcare industry,” argued Dr Manel Escobar, the clinical director of Diagnostic Imaging at Vall d’Hebron University Hospital. He pointed out that one of the main challenges in AI uptake is the “accessibility of data to build algorithms and bring them into production as we need access to data from thousands of patients and European regulations are really very restrictive in this respect.”

The session entitled ‘Accelerators and barriers to the uptake of AI in health and the role of the public’ also featured Antoni Nello, PhD in Ethics and a patient at Hospital Clínic de Barcelona; Àlex Arenas, professor in the Department of Computer Engineering and Mathematics and director of the Chair for Science and Humanism at the URV, and María Jesús Cáncer, director of Innovation in Healthcare at everis, an NTT Data Company.

Arenas pointed to AI and ICT as tools for streamlining finite resource processes in healthcare and as a diagnostic tool to “help narrow down or cluster what the patient’s potential problem is including remotely based on symptoms and also tap into other tests.”

Embedding the patient experience in care processes

Elisenda de la Torre, chair of the Catalan Rheumatology Association, spoke about Reuma+’s educational impact and its role in acknowledging and giving effect to the group’s human rights. Dr Joan Fernando (Hospital Clínic) described how the XPAQ digital tool designed by OnSanity is used to address the practical barriers encountered during assessment and enhance the patient experience. Likewise, Silvia Millat (Hospital de Bellvitge and Southern Metropolitan Health Region) presented the experience of training practitioners with the intervention of patients in a regional approach by harnessing the patient experience as a lever for changing the culture of a local organisation. Finally, Dr Ana Maria Ullán (University of Salamanca) shared the design of a technique for compiling the experience of children cared for in the hospital using semi-structured interviews and drawings.

In her talk, Olinda Anía set out her personal story of involvement in the Hospital Clínic’s “Users and Patients Committee”, while Elena Ruiz de la Torre outlined her experience as executive director of the European Migraine & Headache Alliance (EMHA). The conclusion from this standpoint is that participation should come about through organisations which generate trust and research projects should pay heed to patients’ needs.