Digitalizing Healthcare in Portugal

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Similar to many Western economies, Portugal is attempting to embrace digitalization in healthcare, but unlike Europe’s Big Five which struggle due to huge populations and decentralized systems, thanks to Portugal’s size and tech-savvy population, industry players and authorities have found success in implementing nationwide digital projects.

“We benefit from a high level of digitalization in the country; we can be a hub for Europe for creating real-world evidence”

João Norte, HMR

Portugal is making a noble effort to remove paper, effectively entirely digitalizing the healthcare system. As many as 92 percent of patients leave a medical appointment without a paper prescription, and as João Norte, CEO of HMR, a budding homegrown market research specialist, goes on to say: “we benefit from a high level of digitalization in the country; we can be a hub for Europe for creating real-world evidence.”

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The Ministry of Health employs a dedicated team to rollout tech services in healthcare. Henrique Martins, CEO of SPMS, (the Ministry of Health’s Shared Services organization), explains “Portugal is unique in Europe as it has electronic health records designed by the government in primary care and hospitals. The software hospitals use for most functions (admitting a patient, documentation, discharge) are produced by SPMS’s team.”

Joaquim Cunha, executive director for Health Cluster Portugal, a private, non-profit organization dedicated to the consolidation of the country’s healthcare industry, says that “the intelligent use of ICT is one of the most powerful and efficient answers to some of the major challenges we have ahead in health research, management, and treatment.”

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Portugal has hosted the international Web Summit since 2016, a technology conference attended by 60,000 CEOs, founders of tech startups and stakeholders working in the global technology and related industries. And in 2018, Lisbon’s Altice Arena also hosted the second eHealth summit, focusing on digital transformation in healthcare. Direct consequences of international influence in tech ventures are easy to spot; the country is teeming with healthcare startups and has seen the number of life sciences startups triple between 2008 to 2015

The Minister of Health comments that “we are now living in an age where digitalization, Big Data, the democratization of information and instant access offers enormous opportunities in healthcare, whether it be in patient safety, scientific activity or in innovation.” The Minister for Science, technology and higher education equally features digitization as a priority, “we seek to promote digital skills. In all areas of the economy and society, and especially within the health sector, we have launched a national initiative to foster digital skills, INCoDe2030.”

Private industry will both benefit and improve upon gains in the digital health world. For Cerner, a supplier of health information technology solutions, Portugal is the perfect place to introduce the “next generation of EMR (electronic medical records), to the market,” states Jorge Sequeira, the company’s country manager. Plus, “From clinical stakeholders to software engineers, we observe a strong will to make progress, and a trend for high adoption rates of new technology from the Portuguese population. Indeed, the Portuguese are renowned for being tech-focused, for example, if we consider the new generation of nursing whereby professionals seek fast adoption of technology,” he concludes.

Writer: Joseph Edward Hall

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