Digitalization of Swiss healthcare – what to expect and to learn from

Switzerland has long been strong in the information technology sector.  Now it even has an unofficial name – “Silicon Alps”. This country is actively developing industries where information technology and communication are of major application importance – mechanical engineering, financial services and health sector. In this article, we have described the most awaiting and trending directions of Swiss e-health applications.

According to the Statista information of 2019 in Medical Technology, 48% of respondents from Switzerland think that the biggest eHealth trends within the next 2-3 years would be health information exchange with external providers, while 40% of respondents think that it would be the usage of patient owned health records.

Introduction of the electronic patient dossier

The implementation of the electronic patient record (EPR) is currently actively developing – especially in the “home communities” that will offer the EPR in the future. This program is developed by eHealth Suisse. The process is quite complex and demands certification. Moreover, it is suspected to be of very high requirements for data protection and data security – Swiss government does not want patients to be “a fair game for hackers”. Patients can access their EPR via web portal; they can also define access rights to documents.

These technical and organizational network structures can be established either in individual cantons or across several cantons. In French-speaking Switzerland, for example, five cantons have joined to form a planned affinity domain going by the name of Cara. In this way, an exchange of data between different domains across cantonal borders is only possible if the domain has the corresponding federal certification.

All Swiss residents can open an EPD by summer 2020 at the latest. For patients, the use of the EPD is voluntary.

Besides launching the EPD, the Federal Government envisages measures to support developers of mHealth apps and achieve greater transparency for users with regard to data protection and data security of such apps. The stated aims of the strategy are to improve the quality and efficiency of healthcare and to ensure a better exchange of information and more efficient healthcare processes.

The most popular medical mobile applications in Switzerland

Among the most demanded EHealth apps for two thirds of Switzerland population there are smartphone apps for fitness with exercise and emergency apps.

According to the requests of the Swiss, there are also some variants of apps, which could be in great demand. Here can be mentioned digital vaccination cards and organ donor cards, apps to control early detection of allergies and diseases.

Besides the above example, mHealth apps are used in routine medical practice to measure vital parameters such as pulse, blood sugar, blood pressure, body temperature or cerebral activity or to remind patients to take their medicines or that they have an imminent doctor’s appointment. The fact that more and more people own a smartphone means that mHealth is opening up a completely new range of healthcare functionalities to service providers. However, mobile healthcare apps are never a substitute for treatment by a doctor or for patient-doctor communication, though they can facilitate both of these.

MHealth app users should already be observing minimum security precautions with regard to their apps. In turn, app producers should state which data they store, and where, and should offer transparent opt-in and opt-out choices that enable the actual users to decide which data they wish to release.

Electronic Vaccination Certificate

Another effort to focus more on digital solutions is the electronic vaccination certificate.

It has been on offer for several years, but it is hardly used by most health professionals: between 25 and 70 percent of health professionals interviewed say that they never use the electronic vaccination card to check the status of vaccinations of their patients, clients or residents. The electronic vaccination certificate is mostly used by pharmacists, of which about 10 percent use the electronic vaccination certificate several times a month.

Seen over the last few years, acceptance among all health professionals is increasing. For the first time, more than half of almost all health professionals recommend the electronic vaccination certificate.

The electronic vaccination certificate has not yet prevailed in the everyday life of health professionals, but it is becoming more important.

Therefore, medical IT-services in Switzerland are increasingly gaining in popularity. For example, looking through the list of TOP 100 Swiss Startup Award 2019, we can notice Scailyte AG – a Swiss-based company developing artificial intelligence (AI) technology for biomedical research, pharmaceutical discovery and precision diagnostics. In addition, one more interesting example is Aktiia, the company that creates the best tool for diagnosis and treatment of hypertension. The founders of the start-up investigated the language of heart signals. They decode key markers to gain better insight into blood pressure. Aktiia’s technology combines common optical sensors and proprietary clinically tested algorithms to measure blood pressure at the wrist. Another example of a startup with a breakthrough idea is SamanTree Medical, a company providing a groundbreaking imaging solution with the potential to improve patient care and cancer surgery outcome.

Shortlist of technological trends in Swiss healthcare

According to the patient-centric analysis of technology trends in Swiss healthcare published by PwC, the most valuable new directions in eHealth Switzerland could be:

  1. Big data and data management. Here an important thing is gathering and managing large volumes of complex and unstructured data to gain insights about patients and their illnesses to improve existing practices. The exemplary applications are basis for AI applications, medical records, distributed ledgers.
  2. Wearables and sensors. Smart electronic devices worn as accessories, implants to gather physiological, or movement data. The exemplary applications: medical devices, sport wearable, implanted sensors, smart textiles.
  3. Artificial Intelligence (AI). Algorithms with the ability to perform tasks associated with intelligence, such as reasoning, realizing and learning from experience; closely linked to data management. The exemplary applications: diagnostics, organization of patient journeys, development of treatment and prevention plans, natural language processing.
  4. Robotics. Electro mechanics-based solution where the programmed robot is able to execute a specific task or communication element. Examples: robotic nurse assistants to lift patients, for example; surgery assistants, disinfectant robots, companion robots.
  5. Telemedicine. Healthcare provided from a distance, leveraging telecommunication and information technology. Examples: virtual appointments, digital treatment platforms.
  6. Mobile health. Data processing applications used through mobile devices to support communication or provide and visualize information for the user. Examples: health apps in general, diagnostics support, second opinions, patient boards.
  7. Biotechnology & gene therapy. Manipulating or genetically engineering living organisms for health purposes. Examples: genomic editing, stem-cell treatments, personalized medicine.
  8. Digital simulation. Virtual modelling a process, product, service or its effect that improves prevention and allows more precise planning. Examples: digital twin, full brain simulation.
  9. Body augmentation. Technology that improves the productivity or capability of the body overcomes current limitations or cures illnesses. Examples: artificial retinas, intelligent prostheses (arms, legs, hands, etc.).

In conclusion, nowadays, Swiss eHealth is developing fast and sharply. There are many opportunities for surgery, biotechnology and data management. On the other hand, digitalization in the Swiss healthcare sector is faltering. This is particularly evident in the networking of health professionals: the internal and external networking indices have hardly changed in 2019 and, in particular, the external networking remains at a low level.

P.S. Altabel Group has a long record of implemented e-Health solutions – from simple mobile and web apps up to complicated and complex solutions. It is also including medical data analysis systems, advanced viewers for medical images, EHR, EMR solutions, dashboards, medical reports flow management solution, clinical trials management platform. Moreover, it includes medical decision support systems with in-built AI, eHealth solutions, wellness & fitness applications, medical device specific solutions (for scanners, etc.). It can be data-grounded ML-driven medical research app, VR educational app, AR surgery support solution, Performance Assessment Tool, connected health solution etc. If you have something similar or new in mind, please let us know; we will be happy to turn your idea into a real working product.

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Julia Govor

Business Development Manager