Embracing more digitisation in health care – takeaways from the 2023/2024 ZHAW Digital Health Report

The fourth edition of this standard publication again features many insights. The following are the three most important ones.

Julia Biller

07. November 2023

Doctor with headset during a consultation
Telemedicine is developing into an efficient form of care with location-independent diagnostics, support and coaching. (Photo: Freepik)

1. Digitisation in the health care sector is not just a matter of choice
The advantages of digitisation in the health care sector are well known, for instance, access to patients’ personal medical histories via a smartphone app, video consultations with their GP, issuing e-prescriptions, ordering medications online, and having them delivered to the patients’ homes. The authors use a fictional patient journey to highlight how the specific application of digital solutions can be used to enhance the efficiency, safety and quality of health care for patients. For health care practitioners, too, there is great potential to, among other things, reduce the amount of administrative work. This reduces their workload, thus giving them more time to provide medical care for their patients.

So far, so good – but the authors also go a step further: digitisation in the health care sector is not merely a matter of choice, but an absolute imperative if today’s society is to continue to benefit from high-quality and affordable health care services in the years to come. Against the background of an ageing society, the rise in chronic illnesses, the increasing shortage of skilled personnel and mounting cost pressures, digitisation is a key building block for a viable and sustainable health care system. This is an important message because maintaining the status quo is a costly exercise and Switzerland stands to lose a great deal if the digital transformation does not succeed.

2. Growing significance of telemedicine
Telemedicine is one of the areas where technology is demonstrating great potential. According to a survey of experts conducted by Netzwerk Gesundheitsökonomie Winterthur (NGW) and the ZHAW Digital Health Lab, 75% of respondents believed that in five years’ time, it was 60% or more likely that 30% of outpatient health professionals in Switzerland would be using telemedicine services at least once a week. 

This is consistent with the observations we have made at Compassana when interacting with service providers and patients. Although telemedicine has existed in Switzerland for some time now, recent developments during the pandemic have brought about an increased acceptance of medical services that are not tied to a specific location. The role of telemedicine is shifting away from regulating access to health care ( with a focus on triage and demand management) towards telemedicine as an efficient way of delivering care that includes diagnostics, monitoring and coaching, no matter where the patient is located. Patients are also increasingly seeking round-the-clock care from health care professionals and are willing to avail themselves of telemedicine services. The challenge currently facing telemedicine is that the patient’s medical data is often not available. The next step will consist of equipping telemedicine services with data from patients and the primary care system so that they can be seamlessly integrated into health care processes. 

3. The added value that digitisation offers must be tangible
In their nine-point plan for transformation, the authors note that health care professionals must be able to perceive and experience the added value that digitisation offers. After all, when people understand “why the change makes sense or is even necessary, they develop an appetite for change”.

I see this time and again as part of my work at Compassana. Experiencing and interacting with digital applications directly and in a way that adds value generates trust in the digital transformation and encourages acceptance of new technologies. This is an important basis for a successful implementation. Apart from the pilot projects and flagship initiatives referred to by the authors, there are other approaches to help engage target groups and guide them through the transformation process. By applying agile methods, a product can be developed in short iterations, which enables continuous feedback from target groups. Prototyping gives developers and designers the ability to visualise ideas quickly, thus allowing users to experience and test the functionality of a product before it has been fully developed. Finally, design thinking can help to ensure that the needs and viewpoints of the target groups are taken into account early on in the product development process. No matter which method is used: including health care professionals and patients in the development process increases the likelihood that digital products and solutions will be accepted and provide real added value.

The ZHAW 2023/2024 Digital Health Report makes a compelling case for why and how we can all benefit from increased digitisation in the health care sector. As in other industries, digitisation in the health sector is a development that cannot be halted. We now have the opportunity to play an active role in shaping this development.