Carolina Ramos, our Technical Manager, shares her vision on the reaction of Portuguese Digital Health companies in the face of the current context of uncertainty 

The entrance of Coronavirus in Portugal entailed an uncertainty environment to all sectors. In healthcare, a wide range of challenges has also raised.

To help the health system in responding to the pandemics effects, Portuguese companies with action in Digital Health, from the biggest to the smallest, rapidly mobilized themselves, demonstrating the secret of success in Health: collaboration.

 

Technological supply to fight Coronavirus

Generally speaking, the pool of European digital health projects reflects Europe’s ability to respond to the current challenges of health systems. The supply, which involves a wide range of digital means, already existed in the previous context and is independent of COVID-19 pandemic [1], [2].

Let us consider the European consortium ACTIVAGE, where VOH.CoLAB is developing a pilot study. This H2020 project aims at promoting Healthy and Active Aging through Internet of Things (IoT) devices [3]. Typically, in the design and implementation process of the proposed solutions in these consortium, each stakeholder of the value chain is involved, from technology suppliers (supply) to final users (demand), allowing thus [4]:

  • The matching between citizens’ needs and the products of supply;
  • An efficient healthcare service;
  • An integrated and effective response to communities.

As an example, in Portugal, before COVID-19 hatching, Sword Health already displayed a Tele-rehabilitation service at home, Knok Healthcare had a Tele-consultation platform and HopeCare remotely monitored patients through an analytical system.

When COVID-19 emerged, Portuguese digital health companies were, thus, prepared to tackle the adversities and provide a supply adapted to the new reality.

To do so, they reacted in an agile way and conveniently positioned themselves in the market, finding collaboration strategies and leveraging an added value supply [2].

It is noteworthy, for instance, to refer the following Digital Health initiatives, created in COVID-19 context:

  • Movement tech4COVID19 joined startups, companies and independent professionals of the Portuguese digital ecosystem to design, in volunteering regimen, new answers, namely:
    • Free of charge chatbot Coronavírus: assistência médica online, for suspected cases’ referral to online care, developed by Zaask and Visor.ai;
    • Covidografia, a platform that allows symptoms mapping by geographical regions for contagion networks’ control and outbreak containing;
    • Free of charge Tele-consultation in BetterNow, doctorino or in the solution of Knok Healthcare, allowing primary healthcare access, bearing in mind social isolation goals and preventing congestion at hospitals and SNS24 line.
  • To tackle the isolation of infected people, Lusíadas Saúde and Outsystems developed Todos por Um, a progressive web app (PWA) for symptoms’ monitoring of COVID-19 suspected cases through a direct chat between citizens and healthcare professionals;
  • Clynx provided its platform, PhysioClynx – Telecare, allowing the Tele-rehabilitation of confined patients who remained in need of remote care.

 

The preparation of supply surprised the demand

Constrained by the in-person healthcare services’ limitations, citizens were forced to look for alternatives, based on Tele-health solutions.

Likewise, healthcare professionals adapted to the new circumstances and, neglecting the usual resistance, recognized the digital’s potentialities, not only for infected people monitoring, but mostly for chronic patients’ follow-up, who remained in need of close care, thus, justifying a remote assistance.

This change of behavior led to a paradigm shift in the health ecosystem, which was successful given the existing supply and the responsiveness of Tele-health sub sector, enabling the rapid adaptation of services throughout the chain.

 

The rethinking of companies and collaboration enhancement

The value provided by digital means progressively sparked the attention of regulatory Health entities towards the urgent need to exploit the available Digital Health solutions.

It is during this new context, characterized by a higher motivation for the use of Tele-health solutions and a better support from authorities, that the demand side evolved towards new requirements, which made technologies adjust their modus operandi, accelerating their internal innovation processes and strengthening communication and collaboration.

Let us consider, in this scope, the following examples:

 

Measuring the value of the initiatives 

By quickly rethinking themselves, Digital Health companies revealed their sense of purpose towards society and research in Portugal.

The emerged initiatives opened the doors of digital experience in Health, a sector strongly characterized by the fragmentation of information systems and the monopoly of health record platforms and citizens’ data.

Then, how can health systems take the opportunity to rethink themselves and integrate these innovations into their services? And how can these solutions meet the demands of health organizations and citizens themselves, namely in terms of health outcomes, privacy and security? Additionally, which new financing models should be designed to support these innovations?

It is mandatory to monitor the value of the accomplished solutions and investments, to assess, stringently, the impact of their adoption by citizens and health systems.

Driven by this ambition and in the current context of this pandemic, Value for Health CoLAB is collecting the indicators of outcomes that are necessary to monitor, based on the dimensions of value in Health: personal, technical, allocative and social [5].

 

References

[1]https://www.activageproject.eu/blog/2019/11/20/Ageing-well-why-digital-health-is-particularly-important/

[2]https://ec.europa.eu/information_society/newsroom/image/document/2019-33/health_ageing_projects_list_2019_6BC92EFF-90F3-8A94-09FBFA3C4DFD150E_61321.pdf

[3]https://www.activageproject.eu/docs/downloads/IoT LSP Programme eBook.pdf

[4] https://www.hindawi.com/journals/wcmc/2018/1949835/

[5]https://ec.europa.eu/health/expert_panel/sites/expertpanel/files/docsdir/024_defining-value-vbhc_en.pdf