From the International Medical Informatics Association

INFOLAC2011 – Geissbuhler and Haux Keynotes

The opening keynote talks of INFOLAC2011 ( were delivered by Antoine Geissbuhler, IMIA President, who gave the first keynote, titled “Telemedicine and distance education of isolated care professionals in developing countries” and Reinhold Haux, IMIA Past President, talking “On patient-centred health information system architecture: concepts and examples”. Live tweets from the presentations can be found by searching Twitter for the #infolac2011 hashtag. Both presenters were introduced by Valerio Yacubsohn, from Argentina, an IMIA Honorary Fellow and one of the pioneers of developing health informatics in Latin America.

Antoine noted that Latin America is one of the emerging regions in the field of health and medical informatics. His talk focused on the need for health informatics, but noted that it is only useful if it helps patients and people live a better life – and this is within the role of IMIA. he stressed the need to learn lessons from each other – including examples from different countries. He gave an overview of the nature, structure and key values of IMIA, noting that the regions are very important in IMIA as a natural place to bring together groups and people with similar cultures, languages and issues. Publications are also an important mechanism for sharing knowledge – including the IMIA Yearbook and leading journals. he noted one of the main strengths of IMIA being its Working Groups, bringing together experts from around the world on specific topics – to bring together knowledge from around the world.

Antoine’s talk dealt with how we can support care professionals where they are most needed, noting that this is not necessarily/primarily a technical problem, but that technologies can help. There are many countries with critical shortages of health service providers and care professionals (in particular in sub Saharan Africa); he addressed examples of how we can use technology meaningfully to address the problems.

He discussed the RAFT network, which aims to develop south-south distance education for care professionals, mainly in French-speaking Africa. It is a collaborative network, including Geneva Hospitals/University, WHO, UNESCO, etc., and with about 60 hospitals in 18 countries in Africa as part of the network – the people running the network need to trust each other and work together. The technology, he noted, needs to be adapted to the reality of the local situation – locally there is a need for tools to deliver low bandwidth distance education, that can be accessed in places where access to Internet may be unreliable. The network also supports teleconsultation to provide asynchronous collaboration by experts to deal with clinical cases.

The RAFT project has also developed 80% of courses produced in Africa – providing 16 hours of e-courses per month – to an average of 18 sites connected at a time, but there can be over 40 sites. Courses are aimed at a range of health care professionals and teaching activities lead to certificates and other qualifications. A spin-off has been south-north teaching exchanges, ie delivery of teaching (eg on leprosy) from Mali to Geneva. There has also been work on developing local centres of expertise, eg in Bamako, Mali to help develop research and development in-country and in surrounding countries.

Reinhold addressed the research areas, include health enabling technologies, at the Peter L. Reichertz Institute in Germany. He began by noting issues of health care and population development – especially issues around ageing populations – that are a key factor affecting all countries of the world. The potential support ratio (of younger people to support older) is changing radically in all parts of the world – and this, with increases in chronic disease and other disease patterns, and decrease in numbers of health professionals, are leading to necessary changes in health care organisation. Reinhold saw the WHO ehealth resolution of 2005 as an important step in addressing the issues and raising awareness of the problems, and of the need to move to patient-centred care.

The focus of his talk was on health information systems; a simple question exists, he said, that needs to be addressed – how to deal with HIS architectures and information management strategies when more than one organisation is involved in care. The question becomes increasingly complex as we move beyond traditional care settings etc to the patient’s home and outside. He is currently involved in projects looking at the reality of changing practice of care, including elements of social care (housing ) as well as traditional aspects of health care –  eHealth.Braunschweig –  The project includes what needs to be changed in home environments to support care, healthy living, etc. The research is finding that people do not necessarily want to move to new homes (even supported ‘smart homes’) but want affordable services in their own homes.
Among barriers to progress are that while the need for collaboration is unanimously supported, the organisational framework is still fragile – questions of financial attractiveness and competition hamper progress. Reinhold concluded by noting that patient-centred care is still a challenge – it needs to be addressed in a comprehensive manner, including new forms of care.

May 18, 2011 - Posted by | conference, education, IMIA, IMIA-LAC, Latin America | , , , ,

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