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Interview with Mariana Peyroteo Dos Santos “Foresight studies are in the end to make people think about the future”

By Nora Lorenzo

The Covid-19 pandemic aggravated many of the issues and difficulties that health systems had already been facing for the last decades. Although we could have predicted better how to better manage a disruption of such dimension, we did not. Thus, foresight studies that focus on considering futuristic scenarios might become increasingly more important since they might help public health experts and policymakers to better prepare for the future. Ultimately, they might be a great tool to strengthen the current health systems and make them more resilient.

Mariana Peyroteo dos Santos graduated with her Biomedical BSc in 2017 and then enrolled in a Public Health and Development Master in Instituto de Higiene e Medicina Tropical from NOVA University in Lisbon. She is a researcher at the Comprehensive Health Research Centre from NOVA Medical School and she is currently enrolled in the PhD Program in Industrial Engineering at the NOVA School of Science and Technology in Lisbon. Her work focuses on Digital Health and Health Information Systems, with the goal of defining the value of information in Digital Primary Health Care, using Design Science Research Methodology. The main focus of interest is based on improving clinical management and quality of life for patients with chronic diseases. Within the European Public Health Conference, Mariana was invited to speak in the “Using foresight to anticipate future public health challenges” workshop. She presented “The future of health digitalization: The case of Primary Health Care in Portugal” which is part of her PhD thesis. Based on the importance of foresight studies for future challenges, a EUPHAnxt fellow found that Mariana’s research in a country such as Portugal was quite interesting for EUPHA’s future direction.

Find below the interview on the focus of her work and how small countries can overcome data barriers. 

Thank you Mariana for your time, could you please explain us the work you have been conducting within your PhD thesis?

My PhD thesis focuses on developing a model to be able to assess the value of information, specifically treating multimorbidity patients in Primary Health Care settings. After the literature review, we realized that for the effective implementation of the new technologies in this context, it is necessary to comply with the end users' work process. Therefore, we decided to put some health professionals from a specific context, a small region of Portugal (ACES Arco Ribeirinho), and to evaluate their reaction to the digitalization in their setting. To conduct this evaluation, we did a foresight study.

It was interesting to find out that the health professionals’ goals correspond to the same that we, researchers, had found in the previous literature review.

Could you tell us why you chose this specific region of Portugal?

We had already applied a pilot study in this specific context. From previous results, we considered this fascinating region characterised mainly by a population distributed differently through rural and industrial areas, which allowed us to study a more diverse population.

What are the potential ways of applying these type of studies at national level in Portugal?

Applying these methods at the national level is a more demanding process. The application in specific regions (North, Center and South) is more accessible because we could choose a particular context. At national level, it is more complex and time-consuming but it is possible. Additionally, in the current setting of Portugal, it would be more challenging because it would require the involvement of politicians, institutions, and stakeholders, which ultimately requires more time. Nevertheless, on a positive note, we have already conducted another foresight study on how public health will be in 2032 in Portugal and we managed to have stakeholders from different regions of the country.

Do you think partners were more resistant about the digitalization process on areas with a large elderly population?

Our primary concern is not about digital health literacy in the patients but for health professionals. More is needed to give digital tools to health professionals. It is essential to show them how to use and manage these new tools in their work process.

We are now involved in a project that aims to develop capacity-building skills to help healthcare professionals engage and use digital health tools more sustainably.

How do you think European countries can help or support smaller countries, like Portugal, that have lower human and material resources to collect data?

The European Health Data Space will be an excellent tool, making all data accessible (confidential and anonymized). The advantage of foresight studies is that you don’t always need quantitative data. You can also use qualitative data, which you can obtain using the proper methodologies to obtain robust research.

In the end, foresight studies make people think about the future and the impact their actions might have later.

Written by
Nora Lorenzo (interviewer), BSc in Nutrition and Dietetics in the University of Barcelona, and currently in her last year of Master’s in Public Health at the University of Porto; and EUPHAnxt fellow at the 15th European Public Health Conference, held 9-12 November 2022 in Berlin, Germany.



Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or HaDEA. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.