Interview with Werner Bill, Executive Director of the European Respiratory Society
Werner Bill is the Executive Director of the European Respiratory Society (ERS). In this interview, he talks about the relationship between ERS and ELF, and the role that patients can play in the Society’s activities.
Can you introduce ERS? What does your role as Executive Director of the organisation involve?
ERS was set up as an international, not-for-profit organisation that brings together physicians, healthcare professionals, scientists, researchers and other experts working in lung health. Our goal is to alleviate the suffering of people living with lung conditions and work with patients to improve care. ERS is one of the leading medical organisations in the respiratory field, with a growing membership of over 30,000 healthcare professionals, representing over 160 countries supporting advances in medicine across the globe.
As Executive Director, my role is to implement all the visions and decisions of the ERS leadership, boards and committees. I work with the different departments to make sure that information flows through the organisation and that things move ahead.
How do ERS and ELF work together and how important is that relationship?
The ultimate goal of all ERS activities is to improve patient outcomes, and it is therefore important to understand patients’ needs, wishes and hopes. Patients are included in all our organisational structures and activities. The ELF Chair, who is a patient, is part of the ERS management group, which helps steer the organisation strategically. Patients are also part of the Congress, ERS Task Forces and Clinical Research Collaborations (CRC) – in fact, SHARP, a CRC on severe asthma, has two patient co-chairs who work alongside the healthcare professionals. At the same time, ERS helps guide the work of ELF – I am part of the ELF Council, along with many ERS officers, and there are ERS representatives working with patients on ELF’s different activities.
Could you explain what the ERS International Congress is and how patients and ELF are involved in it?
The ERS International Congress is a thriving annual gathering of members and stakeholders essential to advance respiratory medicine and science in Europe. It is a place for knowledge to be exchanged and an opportunity for people to meet, to network and to start collaborations.
The Congress is not only a place for healthcare professionals to meet, but also patients. Many patient organisations come to the Congress, for the patient organisation networking day, to be a part of the World Village and to network with delegates. Patients also contribute to the main Congress programme, speaking in sessions about their experiences so that healthcare professionals can learn from them, and taking part in Task Force and CRC meetings.
Patients have become more and more visible and active within ERS. How important is that and do you think that will continue as a trend?
The fact that we have put patients at the centre of all our activities shows how important it is to have their voices, perspectives and views heard. I think this will grow. Patients are becoming more and more educated about their conditions and healthcare, and can give researchers and healthcare professionals valuable feedback on how to advance their work. Patients also own their own healthcare data, so must be an important part of the process.
The patient involvement approach of ELF and ERS is very advanced in a lot of ways, and we are regularly asked for advice on how we do this by other organisations and people from other disciplines. It is good that people want to learn from us – it shows that we are leaders in the field and it pushes us to do even better.
ERS received the European Association Award this year. What is this award about and why did ERS receive it?
The European Association Awards are open to associations of all kinds and sizes: medical societies, technical societies and professional societies. There are different categories for different aspects of associations, from membership to use of technology. ERS won the ‘Most Innovative Development by an Association’ award, for the creation of, and ongoing relationship with ELF. I was very proud that ERS and ELF won the award; it is confirmation that the world sees our initiative as a good one and that we are doing the right thing.
What are your hopes for ERS and ELF in the future?
ERS is currently working on an organisational strategy, which will set out our goals and priorities from now up until 2025. I hope that we can implement this new strategy as a team, with the end goal of furthering the advancement of lung health together. With patients at the centre of this strategy, ELF has a crucial role to play in this. Without ELF’s support, there is no way that we could achieve what we hope to in the coming years!