What is your profession and how did you come to be interested in telemedicine and telemonitoring?
I am a physician who has been active in telemedicine and telemonitoring since 2007. I was born in 1961 into a farming family, my father was a farmer-worker in the petroleum industry, and even as a young boy I quickly knew what I wanted to do with my life. I have always had clear ideas about most things, and what I was interested in.
You obtained your first PC when you were 16 years old, in 1977, how did that shape the person you are today?
I was a radio amateur from a young age, and I was also interested in technology, but I was seen as quite strange for using a computer back then. Programs were distributed via broadcast over radio waves, there was no network and programs were recorded on a cassette deck.
What are your areas of specialisation in the medical field and beyond?
I studied to be an anesthesiologist-urgentist, as well as studying engineering. As an emergency physician, you cannot rely solely on technique, you have to take fast decisions at the moment it matters – this has been a red line in my life. In ‘normal’ life, I am relatively slow in making decisions, but I think it is in my nature to be able to make decisions at a crucial moment.
What was it that interested you in obtaining a pilot licence?
I was always interested in technology, so I obtained a licence to fly private aircraft, and then I had the opportunity to work for an airline company as a doctor, so I obtained an ATPL (Air Travel Pilot License).
What was it that made you transition into telemedicine?
As an emergency physician, I was attracted to telemedicine by the years of experience in resuscitation of mostly elderly people who had suffocated, often caused by the frequent administration of overdosed sleep medication to compensate for the shortage of elderly care. In 2007, the company I founded, Heartlink Online, made it into the national news as the first European company telemonitoring patients.
What is it about Watcherr that makes it stand out amongst other telemedical devices?
Watcherr is currently going for medical validation. I am convinced that despite all the fashionable items on the market, you require proven evidence that it is workable in order for the company to be reimbursed for its products and services.
What are the challenges within telemonitoring and its syndication?
In Europe, most people are not willing to pay for their treatment, so to be reimbursed as a producer and manufacturer of these devices you need to be validated.
How does one go about obtaining this validation, and how are you influencing the changes taking place within telemedicine?
I am the one who is in contact with major stakeholders in the Belgian government, and I am involved with several working groups to adhere to this technology. There is a discussion about the importance of what is called ‘warm care’, and until recently the use of technology to monitor patients was anathema. The recent pandemic has certainly changed the way we view technology, now it is accepted for a patient to have a video call with a doctor, which was a no go before Covid-19.
What other advantages have you observed with regards to the implementation of technology within the medical field?
If the elderly, especially those who live alone and with little outside contact, are able to utilise technology to remain in contact with their caregivers and family, it would certainly alleviate the workload and also avoid untimely accidents and loss. Furthermore, when an emergency doctor arrives at a scene, he has almost no information about the patient, a summary electronic health record would enable the doctor to see what intolerances and allergies the patient may have, it would speed up the required check processes, and ultimately save lives.
Looking ahead, what does the future of Watcherr, and telemedicine, look like?
We are looking ahead to use all the data gathered, to find the right team who can create the AI we need, whilst at the same time, more broadly, ensuring that we retain the analogue with the digital. In the past I thought it would become easier to bring these worlds together, but it’s increasingly difficult to encourage students to take on subject areas that will require them to keep studying for the whole of their professional life, and to understand how to create systems that involve human behaviour.