How stakeholders in digital are grappling with the challenges of today’s healthcare

An interview with Patrik Sundström, head of digital health at the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions.
By Leontina Postelnicu

The Nordics are seen as the drivers of innovation in many industries, and digital health is no different. According to a recent HIMSS study, professionals in the field look to the Nordics, as well as the Netherlands, to advance their own digital agendas and provide patients with better, more convenient services while putting a bigger emphasis on prevention. 

But even the most highly-regarded healthcare systems cannot escape the challenges facing stakeholders around the world. Last year, the same research found that a variety of European countries struggled with a lack of funds or political direction, hiring or keeping the right specialists, and more.

To create systems that are fit for the future, Patrik Sundström [pictured below], head of digital health at the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions, agrees that something needs to change.

“Our conclusion so far is that the biggest innovation, the biggest transformation isn’t digital, it’s about behaviour, and technology is kind of challenging every dimension of healthcare and the ones that will be the best will be those organisations that truly understand that they need to reevaluate every dimension of their business,” he tells MobiHealthNews.

“How their leadership is, how they govern healthcare, their reimbursement system and their financial levels, which culture they have in their organisation, what kind of competencies they hold, and also how they find new ways to partner up with the private sector. We definitely see now that we need to get public, private, technology and policy to be aligned and those that are really doing that are going to be the successful ones.”

A lawyer by background, Sundström, who is part of the HIMSS Future50 international cohort, has been working in digital health for over 20 years. Credited with being the architect behind Sweden’s Vision for eHealth 2025 strategy, he took on the current role back in 2014.

“The innovation and transformation is even slower in the field of law, so I don’t miss it at all,” he laughs. “But you can’t not work with this kind of issues, you come in contact with laws and regulations all the time. This is one of the biggest hurdles, is that everything that we have built up is really based on yesterday’s logic.”

Using technology as an enabler, however, many are pushing to move away from the “traditional business” and “paternalistic system” that healthcare is viewed as. “That kind of culture shift I also see that everyone is working with,” Sundström says.

Increasing the speed of innovation in healthcare

At the moment, one of his priorities is identifying and breaking down barriers in the way of large-scale deployment of solutions that would bring benefits to patients and staff alike. A lot of these, he says, boil down to leadership, as well as designing new reimbursement and incentive models.

“It’s really exciting times, everywhere you look there is a new opportunity or a new possibility in kind of the digital health sector, there are these great services and these great digital solutions that are popping up every week. But we still fight really hard to get them into our business and we see a lot of success in every country, a lot of successful projects and pilots, but too little on wide-scale implementation.

“So we need to find ways to increase that speed to wide-scale implementation, otherwise I think for some time, for some years, the inequalities are going to be greater, because people living in certain areas or members of certain healthcare systems are going to have a better chance than others.”

Now, the focus in Sweden is to move healthcare from “those bricks and walls of hospitals or primary care centres” to the places where people “eat, live, work and play”.

“We see that there are no technological barriers to do that. It’s all about mindset. We work quite hard in Sweden to change our mindset within the healthcare system, going from a view that healthcare is about surviving to a view that it’s more about thriving,” he says.

To make this a reality, all stakeholders will need to work together. “Ten years ago, the stuff that only the biggest global companies would have thought to do, now we have boys and girls that are kind of starting businesses in their own garage doing, so how do we kind of partner with those small entrepreneurs and get their innovation to really create value in our system, that is also one of the biggest kind of things we’re working on right now,” Sundström explains.

“I am convinced that the future of healthcare is really going to build on the strongest of partnerships.”