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Platform helps healthcare collaboration

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Web platform facilitates collaboration between primary care physicians, specialists and patients, writes Silvia Orte

Currently, despite the increased use of ICTs (Information and Communication Technologies) in the field of healthcare, there are still problems with sharing and knowledge management. Unfortunately, these problems cause the burden to fall mainly on the patient. Poor communication and knowledge management can result in lack of time with the physician as well as specialists’ inability to present adequate information about the patient.

Generating knowledge and improving accessibility are the most important elements for the development of all sectors of society, and technology is a way to open new pathways to knowledge. To include ICT and its communication channels within healthcare an effort has been made in recent years to incorporate digital technologies in health management. This concept is known as eHealth and involves the entire spectrum of health care, from quality assessment to correct knowledge management.

The digitisation of health care is a growing phenomenon that brings efficiency and effectiveness to health systems, and this helps to improve the consistency and quality of service. In recent times, platforms have been developed to improve health systems by using information systems and information and communication technologies. Some examples are the ARNO system for cancer pain control, a collaboration project between InferMed and King's College Hospital in London, and ORAMA (Optimal Renal Anaemia Management Assessment), developed by InferMed for Hoffmann-La Roche, which is currently in clinical use.

The evolution of research in eHealth in recent years has led to the development, improvement, and implementation of personalised health systems. An example of this is Co4Salut, a Spanish R&D project that focuses on the use of ICT for the well-being of patients.

Co4Salut is a prototype platform that enhances communication, collaboration and knowledge sharing between primary-care physicians and specialists, while providing a more direct relationship between doctors and patients. With Co4Salut, the medical professional would have a platform to exchange medical information, share concerns and consensus diagnoses, reduce the number of incorrect decisions and improve patient protection according to their conditions, habits and medical history. Mainly, Co4Salut could avoid duplication of tests to the patient and detect diseases or diagnoses more efficiently.

The platform represents a collaborative environment not only among medical professionals, but also among patients. Using the web, physicians can make a more complete monitoring of patients, and even interact with them by, for example, periodically asking patients to introduce into the system certain information about themselves (such as weight and blood pressure). This provides the clinician with relevant, updated information and prevents the patient from moving unnecessarily.

This is possible because the platform includes the necessary ICT services and tools to allow physicians to process and have access to relevant information to support the decision, along with collaboration tools to request additional information for physicians or other specialists.

Technological advances

Co4Salut is based on innovative tools such as a smart search of similar cases and second opinions, thematic forums to discuss controversial issues, charts showing the evolution of the patient's medical status, and collaborative decision support tools in the diagnosis and treatment of patients. The aim is to use ICTs to improve patient involvement in the care and prevention of diseases in order to upgrade health outcomes and patient satisfaction. The radical novelty lies in how it is done - by semantic integration of the patient’s information with an electronic medical record and by creating environments for professional interaction and cooperation so they can be described as shared medical decision support systems.

Creating a shared knowledge base through advanced tools and intelligent semantic tagging allows professionals to share and stay updated. It helps with identifying the most appropriate treatments, incident detection, security alerts, customising treatments based on patient parameters and provides medical evidence, best practices and success stories.

The project addressed a particular case - the treatment of patients who suffer from gastroenterology diseases - but the tools have been built in a way that they can be transferred to any other specialty.

The social and economic impacts of this project are potentially very significant. The development of a safe, reliable and affordable communications system would be applicable to primary care and specialty care. It would promote prevention strategies and optimise the diagnostic process, thereby reducing healthcare and social costs and improving the quality of patient care.

Silvia Orte is a researcher in the eHealth R&D group at Barcelona Digital, which was one of the members of the Co4Salut consortium, along with iLimit (the coordinator), Stacks,iSOCO, the Research Institute of the University Hospital Vall d'Hebron (FIR-HUVH)