Taking eHealth discussion and debate to the European stage

At the beginning of April around 1,200 eHealth delegates from across Europe descended upon a very wet and windy Nice, France, for the annual World of Health IT Conference and Exhibition (WoHIT).

The event positions itself as one of the leading pan-European forums for the advancement of IT in healthcare compared to the more regional oriented events such as HIT, conhIT, EHI Live and others.

Though the conference had a buzz about it, it was obvious from the unused conference bags that numbers were lower than expected. However, the conference programme had some impressive, new keynote speakers with plenty of fresh content – something that is increasingly difficult to find in the UK.

And so it should have, with the force of the WoHIT Organising Committee comprising the European Commission, HIMSS, EUROREC (European Institute for Health Records), COCIR (European Coordination Committee of the Radiological, Electromedical and Healthcare IT Industry), EHTEL (European Health Telematics Association), EFMI (European Federation for Medical Informatics) behind it, there should be no shortage of big keynote speakers to pull the delegates in.

The pre-conference sessions provided a fertile ground for discussion for the attendees who were already in Nice. Jean Michel Billaut, president of the French “Broadband78” Association mentioned in his speech: “We won’t be able to manage the challenges associated with our ageing societies without technology. We might even move towards a new kind of human being, which I call homosapiens 2”.

The terms hospital 2, patient 2.0 and quantified self and wearable technology were brought up even during the very first talks, demonstrating the need for healthcare systems to embrace a more holistic approach to healthcare delivery.

Conference themes were broad and innovative and also focused on the changing needs of clinicians as they move to a world of using predictive and preventative data to treat patients right through to hand hygiene being taught in hospitals via social gaming.

Another hot topic of the conference was the continuity of care theme with numerous dedicated plenary and parallel sessions during the conference. HIMSS Europe presented the ‘Continuity of Care Maturity Model,’ which addresses the importance of information exchange, care coordination, interoperability, patient engagement and analytics. Unlike so many other models that are emerging to measure health IT maturity, this model measures the functionality and mature use of IT, not just the technology itself, which was a welcome development.

Paul Rice, head of technology strategy for NHS England discussed a “digitally enabled transparency and participation”, outlining this as a key ambition for the NHS in England.” This later drew interesting parallels with two hospitals that had created an all-digital environment – the Cleveland Clinic, USA and Seoul National University Bundang Hospital, South-Korea.

The significant presence of the Nordic countries was also interesting. They had their own session tracks in order to share their stories and learn from each other. Furthermore, WoHIT provided them the right ground for discussion and future collaboration.

The exhibition area was well used and well attended, though the add-on booths for presentations/case studies were not as effective as they could be with background noise filtering through and making it difficult to hear what the presenters had to say. Surely there had to have been a better way of embedding customer success stories in the mainstream programme.

Noteworthy was also the matchmaking event, where attendees had the chance to meet and discuss the potential to work together in the future to achieve common goals. Finally, the official meetings provided opportunities for sponsoring companies to organise workshops for those interested.

Although the event was quieter than usual (and who would be surprised with eHealth events being hosted on an increasingly frequent basis) I believe WoHIT addressed the needs of key stakeholders in the European eHealth community.

It held extensive professional development sessions and there were interesting vendor exhibitions, best practice exchanges, such as the interoperability show case, excellent networking sessions, and good debates and discussions by both the individual speakers and vendors on the issues that will shape the future of eHealth.

Somebody told me that the success of an event can only be measured by the post-event interactions. And a week after I can see those bonds slowly being formed.

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