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Putting the ‘e’ in e-Health – Interview with health IT expert Dr Aavikso

ESMH interview digital health-technologies

On 21 September, the Panel for the Future of Science and Technology of the European Parliament (STOA) is holding a workshop called ‘Putting the ‘e’ in e-Health’. Keynote speaker is Dr Ain Aaviksoo. We questioned him about the future of healthcare, the benefits of blockchain, the European Health Data Space and the obstacles you encounter when digitising healthcare.

What experience do you have in the eHealth domain?

I graduated from medical school in 1998, and during my first year of internship I built, together with my wife – who is an occupational health physician – the first ‘health portal’ for citizens. We sold the company 15 years ago to a media company, but it is still up and running ( and one of the most frequently visited sites for trusted health information in Estonian language.

Since then I have been working in various roles bridging between healthcare and IT, which can be described as ‘large scale technology-intensive innovation in healthcare’. The organisations I’ve been working with are countries (in three different continents) developing their eHealth strategies, tertiary care university hospitals implementing Business Intelligence for strategic quality management, pharmacy chains digitising their services, and telecommunication companies looking for their place in digital healthcare.

Currently I am Chief Medical Officer at the global cybersecurity company Guardtime, which builds real world data solutions for governments and pharmaceutical companies, and also a development manager of an occupational health clinic that develops data-driven digital health management tools for employees and companies. My previous role was Undersecretary for E-Services and Innovation for the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs of Estonia.

What are the main obstacles you encountered?

The main obstacle always is knowing specifically what you want to achieve for your customers or constituents. Digitisation – setting up powerful tools for automation and multiplication – is only a means to a goal. Yet, if the goal is perceived as stupid and you digitise it, you get a lot of automatically multiplied stupidity. Or at least this is what people often feel, even if the IT-guys have built the solution with the best skills they have.

Would a common EU Health Data Space help with this? What are its advantages?

The power of digitisation comes from making sense of data, which is available in abundance, but which is difficult to process and analyse without computers and digitisation. And information is more reliable if it is based on data from more than one source.

The success in rare diseases in Europe for example would have not been possible without various pan-European digital collaboration initiatives supported by the European Commission as well as national governments. With personalisation of care, every disease can be considered ‘rare’, because every person is unique. So in terms of being able to offer the best possible solutions to our citizens, in Europe any country is too small, especially if we want to compete with the US and China.

What do you think the future of healthcare should look like?

The future of healthcare should be based on data-driven decisions. Individuals must have control over their personal data, and seamless but secure integrations between various health system participants should facilitate a generation of new knowledge, holistic care pathways and outcomes based payments.

Do you think blockchain technology is a good solution, for example for patient data management? What are the advantages?

The main benefit of blockchain technology comes from an independent (non-human) assurance of truthfulness about the information and its source, as well as an integrity of processes – you can be sure that everything in the system is complete, valid, accurate, timely and authorised. Blockchain is the most transparent system that  provides peace of mind about invisible and superfast digital data processing.

Useful links:
• Event page: Putting the ‘e’ in e-health
• Related article: A scientist’s opinion: Interview with Prof. Henrique Martins about the EU Digital COVID Certificate

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