Smart healthcare and innovation: what's next in digital health?

17 October 2022
Digital Health
Much seems clear: digital health is one of the most exciting developments in the health sector. There are many start-ups, initiatives, think tanks, innovation centres and countless articles in the media - alongside all the hype, the question arises: where is it going and which projects are being implemented? And what conditions are needed in the health sector, for example, in hospitals, so that innovation and new ideas can flourish? The ZHAW Digital Health Lab recently organised Digital Health Lab Day 2022, in Winterthur, near Zurich (Switzerland). The event took place for the fourth time under the motto "Smart Healthcare & Innovation".

"Human, Technology, Organisation"

Sven Hirsch, head of the ZHAW Digital Health Lab, introduced the aims and current status of the lab. He also gave an impression of the consortium projects that have now resulted: For example, the Innosuisse flagship project SHIFT ("Smart Hospital - Integrated Framework, Tools, and Solutions"), which focuses on increasing quality and efficiency in hospitals by developing integrated technical and organisational solutions. A blueprint for the "smart and liquid hospital of the future". What does that mean? It is based on three pillars: a seamless patient pathway from the hospital back to everyday life, empowerment of staff and improvement of processes and management systems. In order to function, it needs an interplay of various factors - "people, technology, organisation". Another exciting project is the Zurich Applied Digital Health Center (supported by the digitisation initiative of the Zurich universities DIZH), in partnership with the University of Zurich, Zurich and Balgrist University Hospitals and Roche. The special thing about it is that it is to become a centre of excellence for patient-centred clinical innovations, with a focus on "Patient Reported Outcome Measures (PROM), patient empowerment and remote monitoring.

Technology is essential. Empathy is the decisive factor

Living with a chronic disease like type I diabetes takes time – up to 180 additional decisions have to be made every day. Digital applications are not nice-to-have here, but they give back a lifetime. CGM (continuous glucose monitoring), telemedicine, peer support in the online community and, last but not least, the development of the closed-loop as an innovative commitment from the patient community make everyday life much easier. For further sustainable innovations, the technical perspective is important. Still, empathy is even more relevant: patient needs and challenges must be heard and understood - "it's about gaining different perspectives", as Maren Schinz, Entrepreneur and Innovation Manager at DCB, emphasised.

We want rapid digitisation of healthcare. But do we even understand its long-term impact?

Digital health and digital public health are not the same thing: in the former, the focus is on solutions for the individual, and in the latter, it is on the entire population or parts of it with specific characteristics. The focus is, for example, on the opportunities and risks of digitalisation for society, resources and capacities for a digital health system. Currently, short-term implementations are enthusiastically welcomed and promoted, but often without understanding the long-term impact on health systems and the well-being of the population. This requires comprehensive digital health literacy, as Julia Dratva, Professor and Director of the Institute for Public Health at ZHAW, has shown: "Competencies and resources important for searching and finding, understanding, evaluating and applying digital health information".

In hospital: no time for innovation?

In order to anchor the topic of innovation permanently in the hospital, a central unit is needed. This unit can support staff in turning their ideas into actual products and services. But innovation does not come free of charge: the organisation must be prepared to make resources available to staff, especially time, so they can be innovative. Important: The topic of innovation must be thought of broadly. Administrative process innovations, as well as medical products. Courage is also recommended when it comes to methods: a design thinking session with Lego can be just the right thing to provoke innovation, even in a very traditional university hospital, as was summarised by Alfred Angerer, Professor and Head of Health Care Management at ZHAW. But fundamentally, similar conceptual approaches apply for a successful digital transformation in hospitals as for other industries: Technologies should simplify the lives of the target groups concerned, said Alexander Nelles, CIO at the Kantonsspital Winterthur. However, the "good patient experience" and "acceptance is the most important factor" must never be forgotten and take centre stage. Therefore, continuous measurements are needed here, with a constant focus on the patient experience.