IT for a healthier society
30 Aug 2018

The health sector is facing great challenges in all countries around the Baltic Sea: demographic change, more and more people with chronic diseases and a declining number of doctors, in particular in rural areas. One important solution aiming for better treatment of patients is eHealth. In 2007, a number of partners from Germany, Denmark, Finland, Latvia and Sweden established a network called “eHealth for Regions”. It covered a number of eHealth issues in several cooperation projects to create new knowledge, share experiences and enhance capacities. The latest project launched in 2017 is BaltCityPrevention, which tackles life-style related diseases.

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Doctor pointing to an x-ray image and a young woman on a computer screen listeing | Interreg Baltic Sea Region

Transnational cooperation evolved over 11 years

“Our network was initiated during a three year project funded by Interreg,” explains Roland Trill, one of the network’s initiators who led the institute for eHealth and management in the health sector at Flensburg University for more than 30 years. Flensburg University is where the secretariat of the “eHealth for Regions” network is based. Flensburg is also the first university in Germany to establish a master’s programme for eHealth, back in 2007. “We decided to continue the network while the project was still running, because we were convinced that eHealth is a great chance for the health sectors of all industrialised countries,” Trill explains. The funding for the network is provided by the partner organisations themselves. With their work, the partners want to enhance the citizens’ health literacy and to open up the market for electronic applications supporting this. So far, the network has brought about three projects. 

More efficient doctor’s visits for heart disease patients through digital health records 

From 2010 to 2012, “ICT for Health“ was all about innovative solutions for people with chronic diseases. “We focused on patients with heart failure,” Trill remembers. One core element of the project was electronic patients’ records which the patients updated themselves. “The patients carried out electro cardiograms independently and documented their weight and their blood pressure. Via Bluetooth, the values were inserted into the file and sent to their respective doctors.” In light of long waiting periods and short treatment/examination phases, this method proved to save a lot of time for patients. Because the project turned out to be very successful, a bachelor-level course and a module for a master’s course were introduced at Flensburg University.

Pooling doctors in rural areas for professional online exchange and trainings 

“Primcare IT” (2011-2014) addressed doctors. How can more young physicians be brought to rural areas? What keeps them from establishing a practice in the countryside? Those were the leading questions. “We found out that young /junior doctors were afraid of losing touch with medical developments,” recalls Trill. That was why he and his partners developed a system which makes it possible for doctors to team up for online training and consultations. 

Activating teenagers to care about their health 

At the moment, the network partners are working together to improve the health literacy of teenagers within the BaltCityPrevention project. Stroke, obesity, and heart and lung diseases are among the great health challenges in Europe. This implies that a new service development approach in the public health sector is needed. The project helps public health authorities in cities around the Baltic Sea to better promote a healthy lifestyle by developing and testing a model that public health authorities can apply in prevention intervention planning, in particular targeting teenagers. The model combines methods such as focus groups, motivational interviewing, eHealth applications, chatbots and health games. “eHealth is just the right way to work with teenagers, as you can reach this target group best via the internet,” notes Trill.

Much achieved and scope for development

Through years of Interreg cooperation around the Baltic Sea, the eHealth partners have acquired new knowledge and skills that they now apply in their regions. Interreg fosters such exchange of experience and thus increases cohesion among the Baltic Sea region countries. For the future of eHealth, Trill would like to see all countries around the sea join the network. In spring 2018, Trill retired and handed over the responsibility for the eHealth network and BaltCityPrevention to Rüdiger Breitschwerdt, a young professor with a strong background in medical IT who will bring new impulses to eHealth cooperation in the Baltic Sea region: "In particular, Interreg gives us the chance to foster eHealth cooperation with the Baltic States, and to discuss chances of and barriers for eHealth on the political level.”

 

Article by Andrea Henkel (www.wortakzente.de), edited by Gabriele Andersen (IB.SH) and translated/edited by Stefanie Maack (Interreg Baltic Sea Region MA/JS) with support of Levke Johannsen (Flensburg University of Applied Sciences).

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