Experts showcase digital health solutions that help tackle COVID-19

The speakers were Roger Lim, senior policy officer at the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport of the Netherlands; Dr Carolina Garcia-Vidal, senior specialist at the Infectious Diseases Department of Hospital Clínic, Barcelona; Sameer Pujari, vice chair of the World Health Organisation (WHO) ITU Focus Group; Dr Miguel Muñoz, head of business development of Mediktor; and Dr Jordi Serrano-Pons, founder of EpidemiXs & UniversalDoctor.


Several technological solutions have been launched to help manage the COVID-19 pandemic, notably to detect the first symptoms, track the virus, carry out tests and support the population in accessing and receiving healthcare.

But using these technologies has also brought regulatory and privacy challenges and has consequences on the global healthcare systems and citizens.


Roger Lim, Dutch government, said principles of privacy and data minimisation were central to building the national contact tracing app: “We opened transparent processes on the technical choices made, because it’s essential to build trust for people to use this app.”

The app is fully adherent to the Google Apple Exposure Notifications protocol and complements the action of the local healthcare service. “An app should have added value to the current process of the local healthcare services. An app is being presented as THE solution to the pandemic, but it’s just to support local healthcare services,” he said.

Carolina Garcia-Vidal, Hospital Clínic, Barcelona said: “During the peak of the first wave, we had to attend more than 2,000 patients on the same day. We are more or less 200 physicians, 10 to 12 of whom with a specialty in infectious diseases, so the situation was very complex. We had to attend patients with a new, very severe disease, with a high mortality.”

The hospital built an AI system that is able to: keep and analyse data directly from electronic health record in real-time; find COVID-19 patterns to target and personalise treatment for every patient; and predict which patients are going to fit in which patterns, to enable treatment onset before serious symptoms arise.

“We could reduce mortality by more than 50%,” she said.

Sameer Pujari, WHO, said: “COVID-19 has highlighted the need for appropriate applications of digital health.”

The WHO is about to launch its global strategy on digital health. “Cooperation is key when you work in this field. Private has to work with public to make sure we can leverage and maximise technology potential. We also have to find mechanisms of reaching out to every population, leaving no one behind,” he said.

Digital health use and impact can be maximised, he added: “We have more cell phones on the planet than human beings, we need to take advantage. It’s not a case to build at all, it’s a case of how we can take it to the next level.”

Digital health tools such as symptom checkers can help control infection rates, according to Dr Miguel Muñoz, Mediktor. “These tools can be truly effective if they focus on the asymptomatic, provide differentiate diagnosis, and provide the most appropriate next steps for those suffering from another disease,” he said.

AI-fueled symptom checkers present with another benefit, he said: “They can help healthcare organisations to organise their peaks of high demands, avoiding saturation in primary care medicine.”

EpidemiXs launched an app in early March, after having developed tools for Zika virus and other outbreaks. Dr Jordi Serrano-Pons said: “We aggregated a lot of validated information from hospitals and validated sources from governments and the WHO in a record time,” he said.

The company will launch another tool soon to help researchers collect data more quickly and disseminate their studies in open data.

“You can do many things with technology but it has its limitations. If you put all of technology without organisation, nothing will happen or sometimes it will be worse. Technology must be here to help us to improve these flows, to transform the processes, but processes have to be very well organised,” he concluded.

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