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Digitalisation in healthcare

Today, digitalisation is increasingly shaping social and economic life. This topic has also found its way into the healthcare sector and is expected to bring significant advantages in the future, ranging from efficiency gains to improved healthcare services.

10.05.2022

As part of the Global Industry Competitiveness Index 2021 study, BAK Economics also examined Switzerland’s “digital readiness”. It covers the framework conditions and status of digitalisation as well as the degree of digital penetration in research and development. In terms of the digital future viability of the healthcare system, Switzerland ranks 15th out of 63 countries.

Denmark is the number one by far. Switzerland achieves below-average results for the availability of health data and the political framework conditions. One of the problems is that the electronic patient record (EPR) has only recently been introduced and is used inadequately. In terms of EPR use and the number of biobanks, Switzerland lags far behind its European competitors.

Catching up in digitalisation

Digitalisation offers a wide range of promising opportunities, but there is a great deal of catching up to do in this regard in the Swiss healthcare system in particular. The Social Security and Health Committees of the National Council (SGK-N) are also aware of this and therefore unanimously approved motion 21.3957 on “Digital Transformation in Healthcare. Finally close the gap!”

With the involvement of the relevant stakeholders, the Federal Council should define a specific and comprehensive digital strategy for the healthcare sector that goes beyond the electronic patient record.  Quality standards for first-class health data and the right guidelines for the creation of a digitalised healthcare system have to be adopted. Taking into account the know-how of universities and industry, it is important to create a health data ecosystem based on the principles of interoperability and the “once-only” principle, allowing a competition of technical standards and ideas.

Good things come to those who wait?

The topic of digital transformation in healthcare is still very relevant today, even though it can look back on a long history: as early as January 2006, the Federal Council revised the 1998 strategy for an information society in Switzerland. A new chapter on “Health and healthcare” was added to the strategy and priorities were set for e-government and for the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in healthcare (“eHealth”). scienceindustries has always supported these goals and continues to work towards their achievement.

The Federal Council identified the following aspects as the overarching strategic objectives of eHealth: Firstly, the improvement of efficiency thanks to the coordination of stakeholders and processes in the healthcare sector. Secondly, the improvement of quality and security through end-to-end (national) electronic processes. This will help to reduce errors, improve patients' health and ultimately save lives. And thirdly, the promotion of the economy: the systematic development of eHealth is creating a new service sector. As well as helping to optimise the healthcare system, it can also become an economic factor by improving the quality of life and location.

Electronic patient record as key dossier

A key aspect of the Federal Council’s strategy was the introduction of the electronic patient record (EPR). The basic idea of the EPR is that data can be collected according to a uniform structure and exchanged electronically. This should enable better diagnoses and treatments thanks to comprehensive information. On 15 April 2015, the Federal Act on the Electronic Patient Record (EPDG) came into force. This sets out the framework conditions for its introduction and dissemination. However, the implementation date of 15 April 2020 could not be met due to the complexity of the certification procedures.

scienceindustries is in favour of accelerating the digitalisation of healthcare. Insofar as this goal can be achieved with the EPR, it welcomes the introduction of the EPR. However, it must be introduced more quickly and, above all, in a coordinated manner. scienceindustries also advocates participation in the EPR as a condition for the authorisation of service providers. Further steps must follow, in particular the technology-neutral interoperability of the system, a simple and user-friendly design, and the promotion of general acceptance of digitalisation in healthcare in general and the EPR in particular among the general public.

eHealth Switzerland 2.0 strategy

Another key element of the digitalisation of the healthcare system is the “eHealth Strategy Switzerland 2.0 2018-2022. Objectives and measures of the Confederation and the cantons for the dissemination of the electronic patient record and for coordinating the digitalisation of the electronic patient record” which was adopted by the Federal Council on 14 December 2018 and was jointly developed by the Confederation and the cantons. The strategy comprises three fields of action: promote digitalisation (A), reconcile and coordinate digitalisation (B) and enable digitalisation (C).

At present, these targets are still a long way off. The EPR currently only supports a “PDF document archive,” which is why various stakeholders are now calling for a fundamental reboot. In February 2022, the National Council’s Health Commission almost unanimously (23 to 1 votes) adopted Motion 22.3015, which calls for a practical record to be introduced by the Federal Council.

In addition, a coherent data literacy strategy as required by motion 22.3016 is an important element in driving digitalisation efforts in the healthcare sector. In this context, it is helpful that the principal federal authorities work together with experts on data literacy and the relevant professional associations to develop internationally compatible guidelines. scienceindustries supports these two initiatives.

Patient identifier and digital patient administration

In the spring 2022 session, the National Council approved a digitalisation plan for the healthcare sector that is also welcomed by scienceindustries. The idea of a personal health number, similar to the AHV number, was suggested (Motion 21.4373): the patient identifier (PID) would thus be a personal number with which medical data could be accessed digitally at any time and from anywhere. This should allow rapid online access to treatment-relevant data at any time. Patients themselves should be able to determine who can view and evaluate what health data.

 

A second part of the digitalisation plan is the introduction of “digital patient administration” (Motion 21.4374). This not only concerns digital billing between health insurers and hospitals, pharmacies or medical practices, but also the exchange of treatment-relevant information. As a result, information on pre-existing conditions, previous examinations or medication plans should be available and make efficient, high-quality and safe treatment possible immediately, provided that the patient agrees to this. scienceindustries views this as an exciting new idea.

Digital Transformation in Healthcare alliance

In 2021, a broad-based “Digital transformation in healthcare” alliance, which also includes scienceindustries, was formed to address the topic of digitalisation in healthcare in more depth. On 31 March 2022, the alliance was converted into an association. scienceindustries also joined this association and provides support for activities in this important field. There is still a long way to go before Switzerland is at the forefront of digitalisation in healthcare. In the interests of citizens, patients and general healthcare, the issue must be given high priority and the current pace must be urgently accelerated.


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