Within this series of news articles, EUREGHA takes the opportunity to highlight actions taken by our members to tackle the Covid-19 outbreak. This week’s contribution is written by EUREGHA’s member’s representatives Cesar Velasco, Josué Sallent and Pol Perez, from AQuAS, TIC Salut Social Foundation and Department of Health, respectively. 

It is safe to say that the Covid-19 outbreak tests the response of European healthcare systems in terms of their availability of health care professionals, resources and facilities. According to EUREGHA member Catalonia’s Department of Health one of the most obvious impacts of the issue is that every decision to manage the pandemic must be made under the burden of uncertainty. 

Updated SARS-CoV-2 data can be of great help to identify, monitor and make predictions about the evolution of the pandemic and to design strategies that can contain the virus spread. It furthermore proves which areas are most affected and where the allocation of resources may be a priority. 

Decision-making and knowledge generation use new information technologies and innovation to obtain ad hoc solutions. This can be seen in initiatives developed to be useful in this context, such as:

  • the use of data for research with the PADRIS data analytics programme, 
  • the development of health apps (App Stop Covid19 Cat)
  • the development of interactive maps.

What is the rationale of all this? Identifying, monitoring and predicting trends in the evolution of the pandemic is key. AQuAS emphasized that they have the responsibility and the technological tools to design and plan action strategies in different scenarios. Healthcare systems need to be provided with tools that facilitate decision-making and the generation of knowledge to all citizens.

Heat maps and mHealth solutions applied to the context of a pandemic: App Stop Covid19 Cat

The health system is adapting to extreme situations that are not easy to predict. In the current context, for example, Department of Health needs to have a full picture of how many people might be infected with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. It is also necessary to predict and estimate the number of people who could be infected and in which geographical areas and in which time frame. This information is key in predicting and deciding on which scenarios the health system will need to plan and decide on the most efficient and rational allocation and use of available resources. 

The StopCovid19 Cat App is a mobile application of the Ministry of Health of Catalonia that aims to detect and monitor the symptoms of Covid-19 through citizen collaboration. The app, rolled-out on 18 March, is free and complies with all the guarantees of security and personal privacy and is a key instrument to activate healthcare delivery based on identified needs.

It is a mHealth tool that allows remote monitoring of people who report having mild symptoms and, if necessary, the activation of emergency medical services in severe cases. But it is also a digital tool that allows us to generate a heat map that detects the number of possible coronavirus cases and their geographical location in real-time. 

Information and communication technologies, (ICTs) and epidemiological surveillance systems based on big data, will play a key role in the digital approach of the identification, prevention and management of epidemics and pandemics. 

Citizen empowerment will be increasingly necessary for the use of these digital tools and it means the responsibility with the health system will necessarily be promoted. That will be the only way to ensure that decisions made towards the population are optimal.

Information system and digital Health on Covid-19 era

Advanced data processing has provided a real-time overview of the situation of the Covid-19 pandemic in Catalonia. Efforts have been made to develop predictive models based on mathematical models and statistical tools. The Interactive maps (number of cases, geographical distribution) have proven useful to workout pandemic evolution predictive algorithms. These are decision-making tools that would not be possible without robust information systems.

Meanwhile, Covid-19 open data has been published. We bear witness of an individual and collective mobilization, as individuals, experts, social groups and entities cooperate to support and provide expertise and solutions. Solidarity, namely, enabling exchanges of knowledge and experiences between countries.

Another issue is that from a healthcare perspective, there is a commitment to further develop and implement digital health. Other initiatives implemented by the Department of Health include La Meva Salut and the e-prescription that have been included in the system in recent years but have now been strengthened by the pandemic. The Catalonian eHealth strategy has been described in the EUREGHA’s best practices showcase in 2019. 

The Covid-19 pandemic demonstrates that ICT and innovation are necessary to make new tools available in the search for “ad hoc” solutions that may strongly contribute to improving healthcare decision-making and delivery when it comes to design and planning specific strategies. 

“Digital transformation is an opportunity to improve access to healthcare, provide better solutions to people with symptom and understand the evolution of the epidemic.”

César Velasco MD

PHD. Director at AQuAS and Vice-chair at EUREGHA