Healthcare Digitalization – Sweden aims to be best in e-health by 2025
In less than ten years, in 2025, the Swedish government has set a goal to be the world’s best country in the area of e-health. Based on the research performed by McKinsey, if the healthcare digitalization process is done in the right way, it would lead to 180 billion SEK of annual savings mostly by reducing unnecessary visits, medication errors, and shorter hospital stays etc. This initiative has been undertaken due to the rapidly increasing costs of healthcare mainly associated with aging population. Since the beginning of the 2000s, the cost of Swedish healthcare has increased by an average 4.2 percent per year which is 0.9 percent more than the average increase of Sweden’s GDP. The benefits of digitalizing healthcare are meant to slow down this large increase and achieve a sustainable cost growth while maintaining and improving the quality of the Swedish healthcare system.
The increase in healthcare costs is driven by people living longer and thus needing more care since the difficult and demanding treatment of diseases such as cancer and diabetes is becoming more common. At the same time, the technological innovations and digital solutions are rapidly growing and becoming more available in practice. This is why many major players worldwide such as authorities, politicians, healthcare providers, investors and entrepreneurs now greatly focus on e-health. In Sweden, the idea of a systematic and coordinated digitalization of care has been progressing during the last decade. The first national e-health strategy was passed 2006 and updated in 2010. The digital transformation is gradually taking place especially considering that several prerequisites for implementing a digital transformation of health care is in place Sweden. There is an excellent digital infrastructure, a tech-savvy population and a strong culture of innovation and entrepreneurship.
Digital technology combined with new ways of working within healthcare can create value for all stakeholders including patients, their loved ones, health professionals, innovators and for society at large. Through the systematic application of digital techniques in several areas, the achieved cost reduction has been estimated to be up to 25 percent over a ten year period. This makes it possible to meet the growing future health care needs with current costs and allocation of resources. The greatest potential for getting the most value from digitalization are in increased connectivity within healthcare through remote monitoring using sensor technology, online booking for appointments and medications, self-diagnosis and remote consultations, digital tools for self-care and medication monitoring, and preventive care. Another important area where digitalization plays an essential role is the automation of healthcare processes in terms of integrated electronic health records on a national level, optimization of patient flows with less waiting time and better staff allocation. Finally, advanced data analysis and data visualization techniques can make information more accessible making it easier for health professionals to find exactly what they are looking for much quicker, while clinical decision support systems and artificial intelligence can help caregivers in making the right diagnosis and treatment for their patients which is evidence-based.
However, in order to implement all of these technologies and processes, there will not solely be a need for economic investments, but also for solving legal issues and undertake large cultural shifts from the current way that things have been done to a new way which is usually met with resistance among the workers. For the potential of digital technologies to be fully exploited in the Swedish health care major investments, structural changes and a clearer allocation of responsibility for carrying out the conversion will be required. An important part of the work is to increase collaboration and exchange of information between health care providers in local governments so that an integrated care chain is created around the patients.
Therefore, before making some of these implementations it is important to properly prepare and develop solutions which will actually provide value to the patients, cost savings to the healthcare system and be easy to use for the healthcare professionals, an aspect which has often been neglected. IT systems need to be developed in collaboration with health professionals who will actually be using them which thus far has not always been the case as witnessed by so many complaints from the physicians about e.g. difficulties in using electronic health records. Finally, Sweden should not simply aim to be the best in e-health because it is not a competition or something that can be measured, but they should strive to create the best possible care which is something easily seen through the health and wellbeing of its people.