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Digital Rheumatology Network: Collaborative Horizons for a Good Future

Digital Rheumatology Network | Prof Thomas Hügle
Digital Rheumatology Network | Prof Thomas Hügle

The power of collaboration among researchers and experts leads to a deeper understanding of thoughts, building a community of excellence. The collective intelligence offers innovative solutions in all the industries, finding cure to underlying mechanisms and potential treatments. This international collaboration fosters a collaborative, cross-cultural approach in healthcare and working towards better patient outcomes and quality of life.

Implementing innovative digital solutions, conducting research, and promoting health initiatives, Digital Rheumatology Network aims to apply all those digital technologies that can enhance patient care. With the team led by Prof. Thomas Hügle at Digital Rheumatology works towards improving the access to healthcare.

It is this innovative thought that caught the attention of Insights Care, and thus we interviewed Prof. Thomas Hügle to know more about the power of Digitalization in healthcare.

Below are the highlights of the interview:

Kindly tell us about your journey and inspiration behind venturing into the field of Digital Rheumatology.

Prof. Thomas Hügle: I am a rheumatology specialist. Since 2017, I am the Chief of the Rheumatology Department in the University Hospital of Lausanne (CHUV) and ordinary Professor at the University of Lausanne (UNIL). My inspiration behind venturing into digital rheumatology stems from the need to overcome various challenges faced by patients and healthcare providers in traditional rheumatology care. These challenges include limited access to specialists, long wait times for appointments, geographical barriers, and difficulties in monitoring and managing chronic conditions. I am convinced that digital technologies have the potential to improve the care for patients with rheumatic diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and osteoarthritis. To advance this field, I initiated the Digital Rheumatology Network five years ago.

What is the Digital Rheumatology Network about? Please give us an idea about the networks’ core missions and its importance in healthcare today.

The network aims to foster the exchange of experience among diverse stakeholders from various disciplines, including physicians, pharma, health tech industry, data scientists, patients, researchers, start-ups, and more. Our goal is to connect these experts and collectively explore the digital transformation taking place in Rheumatology.

Our core mission strives to develop and implement innovative digital solutions, conducting research, and promote digital health initiatives that can revolutionize the field of Rheumatology. Through collaboration and knowledge sharing, we aim to identify and apply digital technologies that can enhance patient care, improve diagnostics, and optimize treatment approaches.

What added value does the network bring to its members?

Over the past few years, we have established an international community of individuals who are all eager to prepare themselves for the upcoming digital transformation in Rheumatology. Our aim is to provide them with comprehensive insights into cutting-edge advancements in areas such as digital therapeutics and biomarkers, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, digital pathways, robotics, electronical medical records, and more. All this with a special focus on rheumatology. We are notably interested in the practical implication of new digital solutions in the clinical workflow. All of this can be found on our online platform,

Anyone with an interest in the subject can access a wealth of resources on this platform, including regularly published podcasts, engaging webinars held in the afternoons, and an informative blog that keeps readers up to date with the latest news in the field. Additionally, once a year, we organize a face-to-face meeting in Berlin known as the “Digital Rheumatology Day.” This event serves as a gathering for key opinion leaders and aims to foster networking among our members.

During the “Digital Rheumatology Day,” we arrange a pitching event that invites providers and developers of digital care solutions. These solutions have the potential to enhance the quality of care in Rheumatology. Furthermore, we acknowledge and award the best scientific paper in the field during this event.

By offering this diverse range of resources, events, and networking opportunities, we strive to create a platform where healthcare professionals, researchers, and enthusiasts can come together to stay ahead of the digital transformation in Rheumatology and contribute to its progress.

How do you envision scaling the networks’ services and operations in 2023 and beyond?

Our network is currently engaged in several important initiatives. Although we founded our network just 5 years ago, we have made significant progress, amassing over 700 members primarily from European countries. However, we aim to expand our reach and impact by becoming more internationally focused. Our objective is to attract new members, particularly from America and Asia, to foster a truly global community. To achieve this, we are actively seeking individuals who are willing to join our scientific advisory board from these regions.

Additionally, we are in the process of establishing working groups. These groups will collaborate to develop concrete solutions for the future of rheumatology. By bringing together experts with diverse backgrounds and areas of expertise, we aim to address key challenges and advance the field through actionable outcomes. Only by creating solutions that truly ease the lives of patients can contribute to an improvement of healthcare.

What role does digitalization play in facilitating treatment for patients and doctors in rheumatology?

Digitalization plays a significant role in facilitating treatment for both patients and doctors. It can empower patients, can improve access to care, enhances communication and collaboration, and enables remote monitoring and self-management. For example, telemedicine allows patients to connect with rheumatologists regardless of their location. This is particularly beneficial for individuals who face geographical barriers or have limited access mobility. Furthermore, digital tools enable remote monitoring of patients´ symptoms, medication adherence, and disease progression. Wearable devices, mobile apps, and patients’ portals allows them to track their health indicators, record symptoms, and share data with their healthcare providers and allows often earlier detection if changes in diseases activity.

What recent positive achievements have been made in the field of digital rheumatology? Why do you find those essential in the arena of healthcare?

Today, digitalization offers incredible opportunities for improving patient care in Rheumatology. Especially the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of telemedicine. Many Rheumatologists have successfully implemented virtual consultations, allowing patients to receive care remotely, reducing travel time and improving access to specialists. Another positive achievement are mobile applications and wearable devices which are used by more and more patients to actively monitor their symptoms, disease activity, and medication adherence. By tracking data such as pain levels, joint mobility, and fatigue, patients can provide more accurate information to their healthcare providers, leading to improved disease management. Furthermore, machine learning as a field of AI has increasingly evolved in Rheumatology. There are already several products on the market who can assist rheumatologist by disease classification and prediction of individual disease activity.

What advice would you like to give to budding entrepreneurs and enthusiasts who desire to engage in the field of Digital Rheumatology and ease the lives of patients?

First, from my perspective it is very important to gain a deep understanding of the challenges faced by patients with rheumatic diseases and healthcare providers who treat them. Furthermore, I would recommend collaborating with experts and built a network of healthcare professionals, rheumatologists, researchers, technologists, and patient advocates and seek for strong partnerships. They can provide insights, guidance and ensure that your digital solution is evidence-based, effective, and aligned with real-world clinical needs. And finally, everybody who wants to work in this field needs to stay informed. Only by continuously educating yourself about the latest advances, research, and trends you can ensure your solution will meet the high quality and safety standards required in this field.



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