Showing digitization potential in the Swiss healthcare system

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 (Image: Pixabay CC0)
(Image: Pixabay CC0)
In order to drive forward the digitization of healthcare in Switzerland, the benefits and opportunities for all stakeholders must be demonstrated even better. This is made clear by the current Digital Health Report from the ZHAW. Society’s fears and how to overcome them also play a role.

Thursday, October 19, 2023 The electronic patient dossier (EPD) has been available in Switzerland since 2020, but according to the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH), only 0.2 percent of the Swiss population uses this service. "There are many fears surrounding the topic of digitalization in healthcare. For example, the fear of surveillance or data misuse," says ZHAW health economist Alfred Angerer. These concerns must be taken seriously, but the public’s focus must increasingly be on the immense benefits of digitization in healthcare. In the recently published Digital Health Report 2023/2024, ZHAW researchers, in collaboration with Accenture, CSS and Swiss Post, show possible solutions.

Showing benefits for patients

According to the Digital Health Report, numerous factors can positively influence the acceptance of digitization in healthcare. These include a high level of user-friendliness as well as the personal attitude and skills of individual users, such as familiarity with digital applications or affinity for technology. "A step in the direction of digitization would mean enormous quality and time savings for patients. For example, health data would be available much faster. As a result, healthcare professionals would know exactly about previous treatments and medications administered, and dangerous interactions would then be detected automatically," explains Angerer. The ZHAW researcher adds that the higher-quality and more efficient care can reduce costs for patients, which should be an important factor in today’s era of steadily rising premiums.

Various interviews with experts from the field also confirm the benefits for healthcare workers. Many of today’s stressful work situations can be improved thanks to digital health solutions. Well-designed solutions reduce the administrative burden, communication within and outside the organizations becomes easier and more transparent, and collaboration is thus facilitated. The time saved benefits the actual content of the job, namely the care of patients. "However, in order for this transformation to succeed, solution providers must have a precise understanding of the needs of employees and pay even greater attention to the seamless integration of digital solutions into everyday clinical practice," Angerer points out.

Technical solutions already in place

Despite the clear benefits of a digital healthcare system, Switzerland still lags far behind in international comparisons, according to ZHAW researcher Sina Berger. "The most remarkable thing here is that all the necessary technical components already exist. There are numerous companies that have already solved these problems with technical applications." The reasons that these solutions have not yet found their way into society are, she says, existing fears on the one hand and a lack of education on the other. "With the current Digital Health Report, we want to encourage people to dare more digitization. We have to want this change to achieve the maximum added value," Berger concludes.

Thinking in the long term

The high added value of digital transformation is offset by the associated expense. According to Alfred Angerer, hospitals, medical practices and citizens:inside must invest time and financial resources to make the transition from the analog to the digital world. "We are aware of this effort, but it is essential that we think in the long term. Because if you look beyond the one-time investment, digitization saves us all a lot of time, reduces human suffering through better quality, and helps with growing costs."