The COVID-19 pandemic has swept across the globe, exposing more than ever the fragilities of our economic and health systems. Right from the start of the pandemic, all eyes were on the data. We were all counting infected people, the number of tests, the ventilator stocks and, alas, the increasing fatalities. But was that data reliable and comparable? Did data effectively guide individual and government action? How can we build a better ecosystem for managing data to support the fight against pandemics?
These were the questions raised in the “Unlocking the potential of data in light of early lessons from COVID-19” session during #EHFG2020, organized by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).
It has been a while since we started hearing about this wonderful world that is digital transformation in health. And although COVID-19 pandemic speeded up a slow process of technological adoption in healthcare, we are facing some struggles along the way.
Julia Hagen, representing the German Health Innovation Hub, compared changing a software in healthcare like a divorce. And I would add that is frequently one of those where you try to avoid, although you know it will happen – that’s digital transformation in health, inevitable and needed. These times showed us that it can happen quicker while increasing efficiency, providing useful services such as teleconsultations and being embedded in our daily life such as contact tracing apps.
Despite afterwork hours, discussion connecting ‘Cancer care, health literacy & COVID-19’ at the European Health Forum Gastein 2020 brought together a diverse panel and audience highlighting the need to solve one of the main public health challenges.
During the past months, the COVID-19 pandemic undoubtedly influenced everyone, particularly chronic patients such as the ones suffering from cancer. Urška Kosir, Researcher from University of Oxford, confirmed this with their recent research where 60% of young cancer patients felt mentally affected by the crisis. Having a compromised immune system, commuting to receive adequate therapies, and being subjected to negative messages on the evolving pandemic, caused big uncertainties over the outcome of the patient’s cancer care.
Theoretically, this should have been the best moment in time to fight a pandemic. Essential data was available in terms of months. The genome of the virus was sequenced in record time. We started testing. We went digital. Still, the means to respond to the acute phase resembled something from 100 years ago: lockdowns and social distancing. And problems continue to appear. All that data we can rapidly generate failed in many ways to bring benefit to the people and only pointed towards the elephants in the room: individualism, lack of vision, lack of means to use the data and, so on. A fragmented Europe.
In this new normality, the world as we know it no longer exists. Online classes are now the main form of teaching. Zoom parties have replaced house parties. Major changes to many social determinants of mental health have occurred. Workers have lost jobs, countless individuals risked exposure to the virus on the frontlines, and several transformed homes into home offices. Then there are people that have no homes. However, let us not stray too far from the main topic.