Catel logoClub des Acteurs en Télésanté(CATEL), is a small organisation with a big ambition: to contribute to the deployment of telehealth. It has only 10 permanent members of staff, but over 900 members, and more than 19,000 contacts spanning the health professionals, researchers and ICT experts spectrum. ICT experts are often representatives of institutions, including hospitals, local and national government, and other professionals. CATEL brings its members together into a multi-disciplinary forum, offering a ‘free space’ in which to exchange ideas, unhampered by political or private interests.

We caught up with Vice President Gérard Comyn who explained that CATEL works both nationally and internationally across Europe, and particularly with the European Commission. It is, for example, working on the MOMENTUM project, which aims to develop a momentum across Europe to drive the adoption of telemedicine, in order to ensure the provision of high quality care for all.

What does CATEL do?

CATEL is at its heart a ‘think tank’, helping to speed up the deployment of telehealth. Its activities fall into three main areas, information, organising meetings and consultancy. Information products include a website, Flash news, a monthly telehealth newsletter, and thematic reports. CATEL has recently, for example, produced a white paper on e-health containing about 40 recommendations for decision-makers.

Meetings have been organised both in France and elsewhere, including a yearly virtual international conference which connects 15 to 20 European cities, and allows participants to exchange experiences. 1200 participants from 15 different cities attended the last Telehealth Day. It also holds a yearly ‘crossroads of telehealth’, focusing on specific issues such as healthcare organisation or legal obstacles to telehealth. More conventional meetings include thematic events and attendance at international conferences. These meetings help to spread information about telehealth, and speed up its wider deployment across Europe.

CATEL’s consultancy work includes participation in the development of telehealth-related projects. This helps CATEL to learn from others, and also to start thinking about future problems. Designing around interoperability across national borders is one of its objectives. The huge challenge of working across different countries, including different levels of economic development have lead to different priorities and differences between healthcare systems.

Three telemedicine projects

CATEL has been involved in several high profile projects to develop the use of telemedicine. Domoplaies is one of the biggest French telemedicine projects to date. It covers two French regions, Languedoc-Roussillon and Basse-Normandie, and enables remote wound monitoring. It brings together regional health agencies, the healthcare network specialising in wounds and healing, and the regional academic hospitals, and uses everyday technology such as cameras, tablets and smartphones.

Another project involves a hospital, a jail and retirement homes in the north of the Auvergne region, in France. This provides telemonitoring for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and is the first such project in France. The equipment used is rather more specialized, and includes sensors, spirometers and cameras.

Finally, telepsychiatry in Brittany is one of the oldest, and perhaps the most convincing uses of telemedicine. It has been widely adopted in the area, despite initial resistance, and the psychiatric community is showing great interest in the progress of the project. It uses only fixed and mobile video-conferencing systems. Presumably, as Skype becomes increasingly widespread, this type of project is likely to be seen more and more across Europe and beyond, as health professionals use the technology to remain in touch with psychiatric patients requiring regular or emergency contact.

These examples showcase CATEL’s methodology, and in particular its knowledge and use of existing applications. The benefit of having CATEL as a partner in such a project is that it can bring together the various parts of the system through a multi-disciplinary platform. Gérard Comyn believes that CATEL is probably most proud of these three examples, together with its international conferences, since they have all served to both increase CATEL’s ‘know-how’ and make it more visible to its network.

Future outlook

The important message for CATEL to get across is that it facilitates communication. It supports technologies that bring people together, and so encourage collaboration. As ever, it is not the technology that is important, but what it can drive and facilitate: in this case, collaboration with and active participation from patients. He also stresses that CATEL’s experience is in supporting partners throughout their e-health projects, from start through implementation to consolidation, drawing on all of its broad network of players.

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