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  • Writer's pictureJack Elkes

Digital Public Health Conference 2019

Back in November I attended the 9th Digital Public Health (DPH) Conference in Marseille. As someone with a new and keen interest in digital health, this was a great opportunity to network with others interested in digital health and learn about their work. At the conference there was such a large variety of talks, from mhealth systems and apps to support healthcare professionals to ways artificial intelligence and machine learning were developing healthcare. This was a proactive forum of discussion in the latest research in digital health, I was amazed at the volume of active research and the variety in the digital health space.

Although I work in clinical trials I travelled to the conference with colleagues from our Imperial Global Digital Health Unit (pictured below). A further 150 delegates formed the DPH attendees, and this year the conference was combined with the European Public Health (EPH) conference meaning over 2,400 delegates. The theme was building bridges for solidarity and public health. Which seemed rather fitting for digital health when it’s adoption can only be achieved with communication to all stakeholders in public health.

On Thursday while still bleary-eyed, and with the sun barely above the horizon we all gathered inside the conference venue ready to start. After introductions the first session was focused on applying digital technologies to humanitarian scenarios, by Francis D’Silva from CGI, and included a discussion about the need for a better ecosystem for DPH. Highlighting the need to bridge the communication gap between researchers and technology product builders. As well as a real example of how the Red Cross were using digital technologies to support workers remotely to collect data on the Ebola outbreak in the Congo.

Other topics covered on day one were; applications of machine learning in evidence synthesis by Amy Hookway from Public Health Wales, telemedicine implementation and their barriers by Robin Ohannessian and a discussion around the impact of smartphones on the health of young people lead by Manon Colard. My personal favourite session on day 1 was one of the EPH plenary sessions where Otto Scharmer at MIT University shared his research of how to change a system for healthcare initiatives, with considerations of the future of medicine by using theory U. A change management method that seems to fit so readily to transitions to adopt digital technology in healthcare.

In the evening of the first day was the DPH dinner, situated at the amazing Radisson Blu Vieux Port. Over dinner of some stunning French cuisine with conversation in full flow, I met other researchers (pictured left) in digital health who had travelled from all over including Spain, Bulgaria and the USA. After dinner was prizes for presenters and after lots more laughs it was time to head back and rest, ready for the next day. There was a true sense of community in the DPH delegates, everyone was so inviting and friendly and it was amazing to see so many researchers from across the globe.

The focus of the morning of day 2 was around artificial intelligence (AI), it’s ethics and how it should be regulated as well as some early suggestions of how to make AI more interpretable. There was also an interesting presentation by Heilien Diedericks around the ethics of a digital pill that is currently being used to track adherence in a vulnerable population. The discussion ensued about who was responsible to ensure this kind of technology provided benefit and how it could be better regulated. In the afternoon sessions I took the opportunity to join the debate in how to make the conference greener, and discuss how the benefits of face to face discussion need to be balanced against the carbon footprint of travel. Many ideas of how this could be improved were discussed, such as carbon offsetting or reducing waste at the conference venue. There was also the idea of creating a virtual conference or regional hubs that connected delegates using digital technology in alternate years.

The next morning it was time to head back to the UK, the time had flown by. The DPH conference was everything I had expected and more and I would certainly recommend it to anyone else who, like me, is embarking in digital health research. I left feeling energised, having learnt so much and with so much more to read and most importantly connections to others in the field.

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