It was the word that highlighted discussions at last year’s virtual HIMSS Europe conference and trust was also the word heard again and again during the main presentations at this year’s #HIMSS21Europe meeting that has just concluded.
The big difference this year was that trust was used primarily in the context of encouraging COVID-19 vaccination to help end the pandemic and only secondarily with sharing of patient data.
This year’s HIMSS Europe meeting continued with the usual major topic areas showcasing advances in European countries and the UK with respect to digital health and virtual care. However, the keynote sessions focused to a greater degree on COVID-19 and the steps needed for Europe to adapt successfully to a post-pandemic era.
At last fall’s conference delegates and the health IT world in general were still basking in total transformation of health care delivery from in-person to a virtual basis because of the COVID-19 pandemic – a goal many had been working on fruitlessly for decades. Now as Dr. Ran Balicer, chief innovation officer at Clalit Health Services in Israel said on the conference’s first day “providing care at a distance is how you provide care”. He added that the whole concept of telehealth has become some redundant as health systems have adapted to hybrid models of care delivery that combine in-person and virtual care.
Back to trust.
“The key to every vaccination program is trust,” said the World Health Organization’s Dr. Hans Kluge during the opening plenary session. This point was hammered home during a session of dealing with COVID-19 misinformation and fake news in which data was presented from surveys in several European countries indicating where trust in government was highest, people were also supportive of COVID-19 vaccines.
The importance of promoting digital trust in developing an inclusive society in the post-COVID-19 world was referenced during the main closing plenary session on global inequities by Dr. Ahmed ElSaaed, Focus Area Lead for Innovation Scaling at the United Nations Global Pulse Finland.
In the same session, Dr. Deborah Maufi, chief medical officer for Babymoon Care B.V. in The Netherlands, said trust was needed to build “key and targetted campaigns” aimed at specific communities to encourage vaccination.
Trust also surfaced in a sessions dealing with the use of patient data. Such trust is the key to sharing patient data for secondary use, said Seamus O’Neill, Chief Executive at the Northern Health Alliance in the UK.
People have been more trusting in sharing their personal health data during the COVID-19 pandemic, he said, because this was being done on an emergency basis to deal with an immediate, threat to personal health. However, he said, one should be wary in assuming people will continue to maintain the same high degree of trust over the longer term after the pandemic. “The volume of health-related data is increasing exponentially … and patients have to be convinced their data is being shared responsibly” said Dr. Rowland Illing, a radiologist and chief medical officer at Affidea in the UK, at the same session.
(Photo of Helsinki – where once again we are not meeting (but should have been) for HIMSS Europe because of COVID-19)