Fahy Speaks at World Hospital Congress in Barcelona

“Is it a bicycle or an elastic band?”

Nick Fahy presents his research at the World Hospital Congress in Barcelona, 10 November 2021, photo by Martins Fotografía de Empresa/Courtesy of IHF

Photo by Martins Fotografía de Empresa/Courtesy of IHF

29 November 2021

Nick Fahy, the research group director for Health and Wellbeing, spoke at the World Hospital Congress in Barcelona on 10th November, presenting his study on digital health tools and the pandemic across Europe. The research was conducted through the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies.

Nick's talk was part of Plenary Session 4, 'Harnessing innovations to build back better: European lessons from the pandemic.'

While digital health tools were developed specifically for the pandemic — such as for surveillance and contact tracing, and vaccination programmes — the pandemic also saw much-increased use of digital health tools to support alterative ways of providing healthcare more generally.

Nick explained that this does not represent new technologies; rather, it represents much greater use of digital health technologies that were already available but not much used in practice. This itself illustrates a broader challenge for use of digital health tools, which is that despite decades of investment in tools and the infrastructure to support them, across the health sector the potential of digital health tools remains largely unrealised.

Hence Nick’s question in Barcelona: is the use of digital health tools during the pandemic like a bicycle or an elastic band? That is, was the pandemic the push that will lead to much greater sustained use of digital health tools in the future? Or did the pandemic simply create a temporary motivation, and once that pressure eases, healthcare will snap back like an elastic band to previous low usage?

A key recommendation of the study is that now is the opportunity for research to help shift the balance, and learn from the experiments in adoption of digital health tools that have been undertaken during the pandemic.