Digitalisation is fuelled by rapid technological progress and almost everyone with a smartphone is already able to consult their health condition with a “pocket” doctor. However, every change is difficult, especially when large amounts of people, sensitive data and challenges are involved. The digitalisation of healthcare is one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century. Thus, successful encompassment of this shift requires an open mind, well-considered regulation and cooperation between the private and public sector.

Hospitals create the backbone of the healthcare system. It is a place where healthcare professionals manage complex processes in order to help patients to stay healthy and enjoy life. Patients expect to get the best service there as hospitals possess the personal and material capacities needed, but in order to receive the best care possible, there is a vast amount of data that needs to be handled. An important step towards better and more connected healthcare is therefore creating electronic patient records (EPR). 

In Switzerland, this application is to be introduced nationwide from 2020 and is regarded as the key to the digital transformation of hospitals, doctors’ surgeries, retirement and nursing homes, Spitex organisations, pharmacies and therapists.

So far, Basel has been the pioneer of these developments in which the entire university hospital intends to introduce the EPR in the course of the year. Electronic records will bring effi ciency, both in time and resources, and create a connected system that all doctors and healthcare professionals will be able to access to ensure personalised and best possible care for every patient treated.

For example, IT penetration in Thun Hospital has already progressed so far that doctors can access the electronic patient record anytime and from anywhere – even in the operating room. There, the surgeon can display important data, such as product information on implants. There is also software already supported by artificial intelligence that provides surgeons with important information step by step during operations, thus reducing the risk. Automated drug dispensing can also prevent human error and increase patient safety.

When talking about digitalisation, data security is always an important topic. That is why accessibility of EPR will be up to patients. Patients can define the access to each individual document and choose between the three confidentiality levels “normal access”, “restricted access” and “secret”. Although in 2017, U.S. News and World Report ranked Switzerland’s public health system as the ‘World’s Best’ with an overall score of 9.3 out of 10, Switzerland is still at the midway towards digitalised healthcare. There are countries that invest heavily in this field and with great benefits. The frontrunner – Denmark – has invested in this particular eff ort for two decades now. The result? According to a study by the Danish Ministry of Health, today 99% of all prescriptions are sent electronically to pharmacies, and 98% of general practitioners exchange diagnostic data digitally or receive laboratory data from hospitals this way. Likewise, 97% of all hospital referrals and referrals to specialists or psychologists are made electronically.

Examples from interesting markets

Some good experience exists in countries like Denmark, Estonia, Finland and Australia. All are based on projects transforming existing healthcare structure via digitalisation. In other words, data-driven initiatives are creating new platforms for interconnection among patients, health professionals and institutions, including hospitals. Mr Toomas Hendrik Ilves, former President of Estonia, was in the lead in implementing the digitalisation project in the country back in 2008. The reasons why he supported this process remain relevant today as well: “A more extensive and systematic implementation of e-Health solutions will allow us to make the service more flexible, improve the health of people by exercising more efficient preventive measures, increase the awareness of patients and also save billions of euros,“ stated Ilves.

Digitalisation and connecting data in healthcare is big topic in Germany too. Although the country is still gaining momentum, new laws and regulations are gradually being implemented to speed up the process. The government is putting significant emphasis on digital health and implementing electronic patient records to as wide a population as possible is a crucial part of it. Also, the effort towards digitalisation is creating new opportunities for medtech startups.

When we talk about good examples of the e-Health approach, there are some cities that stand out. One of them is Barcelona, Spain. The city is well known for its lively startup environment and new medtech companies are popping up on every corner. In a study done by The Healthcare Access and Quality Index, Spain ranked as having the 8th lowest mortality rates by non-fatal causes out of 195 countries, which emphasises the standard of care available in this country. Digitalisation is also helping. Thanks to new technologies, a vast amount of people use smart technologies to monitor their health standard and a majority of them are open to even more new technologies in healthcare in the future.

New technologies are here to help

As mentioned, data is the most important asset, even in medicine. The rapid rise of technologies is changing all the aspects of working with data from collecting through assessing to diagnostics and storage. Technologies like AI, IoT, wearable devices, cloud or complex algorithms are making it easier for healthcare providers to properly diagnose, assess, store and share data about patients and by that, help more people and save more lives. New technologies like virtual and augmented reality, all kinds of apps as well as remote and online classes are helping medical students and professionals get better training and polish their skills, while robotics and technologies like 3D printing are making it easier for surgeons to execute precise and minimally invasive operations.

What is even more exciting about this shift in hospital business is that patients themselves are becoming an active part of the health system. Even though a lot of medical professionals would agree that there is nothing worse than a “googling patient”, an interest in one’s own health can be crucial for healthcare providers. There are apps ranging from fitness, calorie intake, relaxation to prenatal care; there are also platforms and online forums for direct communication with health professionals. There are not only wearable devices that monitor your basic life functions but also those that are able to alarm doctors if there is a problem with a patient’s new transplant. These devices are able to collect an unbelievable amount of data which, apart from medical benefits, brings huge value in statistics on the overall health of the population.

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