#HIMSS21Europe: How to empower patients in the digital age

Global healthcare leaders at the #HIMSS21Europe conference have called for the development of self-care apps, the enhancement of digital literacy and the transformation of clinician-patient communication to empower patients.
By Rosy Matheson
09:19 am

[Top left to right:] Monica Kleijn Evason, Spain; Graham Prestwich, UK; Dr Caridad Pontes García, Spain.

[Bottom left to right:] Dr Xènia Acebes Roldán, Spain; Dr Kristine Sørensen, Denmark.

Credit: Courtesy of the participants

Healthcare is being democratised through the internet and wider availability of digital services. Apps are being developed, which can inspire healthier behaviours and encourage patients to share their experiences. However digital literacy needs to be improved to better incorporate patients in decision-making.

The 'Empowering patients in the Digital Age' panel consisted of Dr Kristine Sørensen, Founder and Director, Global Health Literacy Academy, Denmark, Graham Prestwich, Public and Patient Engagement Lead, Yorkshire and Humber Academic Health Science Network (AHSN), UK, and Dr Xènia Acebes Roldán, Managing Director of Healthcare Services, and Dr Caridad Pontes García, Director of Pharmaceuticals, at CatSalut Catalan Health Authority, Spain. The moderator was Monica Kleijn Evason, Patient Engagement Advocate, Spain.


Digital empowerment can improve clinical and financial outcomes, but health literacy, which is a vital part of empowerment, is not widespread. According to Monica Kleijn Evason, it is estimated that 50% of patients in Europe are not health literate.


“Health literacy is really about managing your health in everyday life, whether it’s about healthcare, or prevention, or health promotion…We need the digital health literacy to really find the right sources, being able to understand the information provided, being able to judge it and use it. But it has given lots of opportunities for patients to dive into their own conditions, sometimes provoked by not being listened to, or not being heard,” explained Sørensen.

In Catalonia the CatSalut Health Authority is keen to enhance empowerment and self-responsibility. Demand for the La Meva Salut (My health) tool, which was created in 2011 as a personal health portfolio, has increased enormously in the pandemic. Prior to COVID, the app received 263,000 visits at its peak, but in May 2021 this figure rose to 3,220,258. Roldán said: “During the COVID-19 pandemic e-tools burst into our healthcare system in order to stay close to our patients in times of such hard and tough distancing.”

She added CatSalut had subsequently added a new tool to help manage the emotional strain of the pandemic. The GestioEmocional.cat encourages the self-reporting of symptoms such as fear and anxiety. Additionally, the Patient Reported Outcomes app allows patients to record their subjective symptoms and perceptions, and a treatment adherence app enables patients to customise alerts and record drug intake. 

“This is about doing things with people, rather than to people, or indeed doing things for people,” said Prestwich, a patient engagement lead from an AHSN in the UK. He believes it is vital to listen to the public voice and has devised a range of measures to empower patients, including creating an advisory panel to look at health literacy and ethics around digital technology.

Sørensen stressed the importance of putting patients at the centre: “Whatever virtual or digital means we apply, it’s always about the person and their story, and their needs. We should adopt the convenience thinking in healthcare, a bit like McDonald’s, you know, making it so easy that everyone could go and grab whatever health service they need in a timely and redolent manner.”

Dr Caridad Pontes García pointed out that it was time to update traditional clinician patient communication to empower patients: “Take the opportunity to change the trend of single way communication into [a] bi-directional model.”  

Access the 'Empowering Patients in the Digital Age' session 'On Demand' here

MobiHealthNews is a HIMSS Media publication.


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