By Paulina De Cesare

In a century in which information appears to be the most valuable commodity, in eHealth there is still a lot that needs to be done to properly ensure the transfer of knowledge. The Doctor and Professor Carel IJsselmuiden, the Executive Director of the Council on Health Research for Development (COHRED), is convinced that there is a lot of information available that is not being shared or used correctly.

In eHealth, what challenges should we pay special attention to?

The potential of eHealth to improve healthcare systems is based on two points: access to information and management of those who exchange information. Most work in the area is focused on the development of patient-focused technologies such as telemedicine and although this is clearly a necessary practice, I believe that both the interpretation and use of this information is limited. In fact, generally, information is just transferred and adapted.

Implementing telemedicine is great if there is an expert resource on one side, a good eHealth infrastructure in the middle and a healthcare center on the other. We need to ask what kind of information we need and how we can link together different healthcare systems to deal with the problems faced by different countries. Innovation must take place with regard to how this data is used.

It’s a problem of priorities, then?

Exactly, in the way that they are decided upon. At COHRED we support research and innovation in the healthcare system. In addition, we focus on helping certain countries to decide upon their priorities and to find the right actors in the private sector to resolve them. If there were a direct path for the communication of latent priorities, we’d see a big difference when it comes to deciding where to invest efforts and resources. I believe that that channel already exists and does not require advanced technology.

Is the lack of access to information in certain sectors a problem?

Yes, we must bear in mind that in the data era, only the ones who process that data benefit from it – and they don’t always make it available to everyone. For instance, there’s the private sector: big medical insurance corporations, for example, who have a large amount of private information about their customers and don’t use it to improve the care they provide but to generate more profit. And there are also other sectors, such as the military, which don’t share the information they obtain either.

In addition, it is important to note that there is a significant problem with regard to the cost of sharing information, while still respecting the terms of its confidentiality; even data comparison is expensive. A clear example of this is activities during major disasters, natural or otherwise, where one finds a lot of people anxious to share certain information but nobody actually doing it. In a typical natural disaster NGOs, governments and different companies from the private sector are all present, gathering their own information without sharing it with the others. However, to implement an efficient, effective response to a catastrophe, an innovative way of sharing information must be found.

That is precisely why COHRED set up HealthResearchWeb.org, could you describe what it is?

The project consists of creating a platform in which each country can upload information about its research systems and priorities, we want to convert the platform into a kind of Wikipedia that everyone can access but the project lacks financing.

The objective of the program is to show how research and innovation can help with the development of the healthcare system in Latin America, which I think can be improved. It seems to me that you see the research area as being limited to the production of medications and new instruments and diagnosis technologies rather than a potential area of investment of up to three per cent of GDP. About four or five years ago there was great determination to achieve investment of 0.5 per cent of GDP in science and technology and currently very few countries in the region achieve even that small percentage. I think that the most important thing is to commit to reconsidering the usefulness of science and technology in healthcare and seeing it as a crucial area of investment in both innovative and economic terms.

What political measures should be taken in Latin America in increase investment in research?

I believe that the Sustainable Development Objectives (ODS) program is very important. Hopefully it will be implemented this month. After that we expect that there will be more interest in investing in technologies and healthcare research programs. In fact, in association with seven other organizations we have brought out a publication to help the ODS pay more attention to healthcare areas related to information, research and innovation. Even so, given that ODS depend on the member states, it is down to governments to decide upon what is important.