ERS Presidential Summit: How can ehealth personalise respiratory care?

24 June, 2016

Experts from across Europe gathered in Brussels this week (16–17 June, 2015) to discuss developments in personalised medicine and ehealth at the fifth ERS Presidential Summit.

Taking place each year, these prestigious events provide an opportunity to discuss pressing issues at the interface of patients, science and policy in the respiratory field.

Entitled ‘Personalising respiratory care in Europe’, the event looked at how information and communication technology, together with a move towards precision medicine, is revolutionising healthcare and making health systems more efficient and effective.

A welcome address was provided by Michael Hübel, Head of the Programme Magement and Diseases Unit for the European Union’s Health and Food Safety Directorate General. Mr Hübel considered how respiratory diseases and associated risk factors are addressed across EU health policies.

Over the course of the day, a number of key topics were covered from all perspectives. The political perspective was offered from Dr Tapani Piha, Head of the EU’s eHealth and Health Technology Assessment Unit, who examined how ehealth can be promoted across Member States for the benefit of connecting national health systems.

Examples of successful ehealth projects in progress were also shared including the experience of the digitised healthcare model at Maccabi Healthcare Services in Israel and the experience of the icoach app, which has helped thousands of Europeans quit smoking as part of the Ex-Smokers are Unstoppable campaign.

The discussion then turned to specific examples of self-management of disease and new actions from industry. Dr Thomas Ferkol, President of the American Thoracic Society and Dr Alvar Agusti ended the last session of the day sharing examples of how targeted treatments are personalising care. A lively discussion followed the session on the impact of this shift in healthcare.

The second day of the Summit addressed balancing the development of innovative medicine with the protection of sensitive personal data, looking at core issues of data protection and regulation. Beth Thompson from the Wellcome Trust in the UK took participants through the legislative process concerning EU data protection regulation and what this means for the research community. The debate centred on how the research community can reassure patients about data protection concerns.

Patient ambassador for the Lung Foundation Netherlands, Dominique Hamerlijnck, concluded that while the principle of empowering patients through apps was a good one, the apps currently available fall short of delivering this aim. Her talk concluded with the proposal that apps should be developed by multidisciplinary teams involving all stakeholders, to offer the customised support required by all parties.

The final session of the Summit put a spotlight on ERS actions on mhealth and ehealth using examples from the field of tuberculosis (TB) and smoking cessation. The Summit concluded with an in-depth discussion on the issues surrounding personalised care and new technologies. The issue of health inequalities was raised and participants questionned how stakeholders can ensure that technological advances are accessible to all.

Professor Elisabeth Bel summarised the meeting: “As more digital technologies develop, there is no better time to bring together all stakeholders to work on strategies to effectively implement ehealth and personalise the care we provide to patients.

“We have seen through these discussions that technological advances can facilitate and promote personalised medicine bringing the benefits of empowering patients, improving the treatment process and reducing the burden of chronic diseases. However, there are issues that are not yet resolved such as the barriers of costs and health inequalities. For example, we have to ensure that these advances are available to all sections of society and not just those people who have access to digital technologies.

“This interactive meeting provided a platform to bring together healthcare professionals with industry, policymakers and patients, to hold positive discussions on how we can utilise technological advances to personalise care for respiratory patients. The move towards personalising medicine is happening now so the challenge is how we can try to direct this change in the right direction. ERS is committed to embracing these changes and we hope we can succeed in the aim by sharing knowledge and working collaboratively.”