The human touch in a digital world (P2)

Digitalising health services:  are we ensuring equity and the human touch?

The plenary started off with the opening remarks from Dr. Hans Kluge (nominee Regional Director-elect for the WHO European Region) sharing his thoughts and views on digitalisation. His remarks were echoed by the panel in the discussion that followed.

Digital technologies are redefining public health and health services. Dr. Hans Kluge is committed to working toward accessible and affordable digital health services across all 53 member states within the European Region. However, he highlighted the importance of accessible and affordable digital services for all. Are we so enthusiastic in digitalising our health services that we fail to oversee if services are accessible and affordable to all, thus risking to push more people into poverty? Are we ensuring that digital health services are accessible to all? Are we engaging civil societies and the public and are we including their views and thoughts in the design of digital health services? Digital health tools present new opportunities to current challenges. Nevertheless, we should be careful that we do not get blinded by this digital transformation and forget about the human touch. 

We need ethically and morally responsible policies to ensure that no one is left behind!  This requires a good governance framework across all European member states, which is built in partnership with patient groups, health professionals, and the general public. We need more evidence on the safety and efficacy of digital interventions, most notably for artificial intelligence – so that we ensure that we don’t lose the human touch. 

Think about the last time you introduced a new intervention or service, based on digital health. Did you get your patients’ views about this? Did you check whether it would be accessible to all your patients? Did you ascertain that it would not undermine their safety, privacy, security and trust? Did you make sure that your patients are not being deprived from the human touch? If not, think again. It doesn’t mean that digital health is not the solution, but rather that an alternative is required.

Technology can bring us together or break us apart. It all depends on why we choose to implement new technology (is the decision based on our needs, our patients’ needs or both?) and the way we design the service (ensuring an element of human touch and making sure that the service is accessible and affordable to all).

Technology should not steer us away from the human touch in patient/provider interactions, but free up time and facilitate better and increased human to human interaction in healthcare.  “We must make conscious changes for a human touch in the digital world and make sure that no one is left behind” Dr. Hans Kluge

This Blog was written by the Young Gasteiner Joseph Grech

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