Nicolas Bürer spoke with Gieri Cathomas, initiator and president of the Swiss Healthcare Startup Association, to find out more about the current state of innovation in Switzerland’s health system.

Nicolas Bürer: You are president of the Swiss Healthcare Startup association; what is your opinion on Switzerland’s current state of health innovation, especially compared to other countries?

Gieri Cathomas: This is a very difficult question to answer, as I do not know foreign health systems nearly as well as the Swiss one. The more detailed insights you have in an existing system, the more you are able to notice redundancies and areas of improvement.   Let me put it this way: thanks to the reciprocal cooperation among different stakeholders, Switzerland has the best possible framework to develop a future- and patient-oriented healthcare system.

Nicolas Bürer: According to studies, digitalisation will affect and transform the health industry significantly in the next five to ten years. Can you explain why?

Gieri Cathomas: I am not a futurologist and prefer to work in the present. What I see, however, is that the healthcare system is heavily regulated, partially inefficient and so far, hardly digitally connected. In addition, though being the main client, the patient is often too little involved. This sounds like a good breeding ground for disruptive transformation.

Nicolas Bürer: From the patient’s point-of-view, what will be the major changes in the next years?

Gieri Cathomas: The patient finances a substantial part of the health system through contributions to health insurance. Due to lack of transparency, information, and existing special interest groups, the patient is often the weakest link in the chain and has little power to make important decisions.

Nicolas Bürer: A final question: in the United States, the ePatientdossier (EPD) has already been in use for several years. How do you see the situation in Switzerland and should we have an ePatientdossier?

Gieri Cathomas: Switzerland introduced the ePatientendossier regulation in 2017. Since then, over 10 principal communities (Stammgemeinschaften) were founded. These communities are the legal bodies to be certified by a notified body and they will introduce the EPD in Switzerland. Hospitals are obligated to connect to one of these communities by 15 April 2020 and nursing homes by 15 April 2022. The ICT providers for EPD communities have almost completed implementation and the Swiss government just recently finished the final details of regulations.

The EPD will not dramatically change healthcare and it will take time for the number of patients with an EPD to be significant. This will push the healthcare industry towards a certain degree of standardisation and create a common language. This standardisation of communication between key players will be an important change in public healthcare and will create conditions for further future improvements.

Gieri Cathomas: Now, Nicolas, let me ask you a few questions in return: digitalswitzerland was founded in 2015. What specific projects have you been working on in the healthcare sector? Where will be the focus in this industry over the next five years? 

Nicolas Bürer: I would like to highlight three projects from the past couple years. First of all, one of the eight core topics of the Swiss Digital Day is eHealth and healthcare. During the 2018 Digital Day, the city of Sion focused on eHealth as the main topic for all their activities. Secondly, Riva Digital, a successful and promising initiative to raise awareness on the problem of high blood pressure, was launched at the 2017 Challenge Demo & Pitch Day. Finally, we support the idea of establishing a standardised Swiss e-ID for every person in the country. To do so, we support the initiative SwissSign and hope to reach a large part of the Swiss population and catch up with countries like Denmark and Estonia. A Swiss e-ID could build the foundation for the EPD and other eHealth initiatives.

Gieri Cathomas: At digitalswitzerland, several key stakeholders in the healthcare sector are involved on the board. As Managing Director, how do you rate the will to innovate in Switzerland’s healthcare sector?

Nicolas Bürer: I see a lot of motivation in the healthcare sector. They drive innovation for a number of reasons: innovation can bring better quality of life and longer life expectancy. It also could help cut costs. We need both types of innovation: “health-oriented innovation” but also “process- and efficiency-innovation”. Not an easy task, and also very important, all key stakeholders need to find common ground and pull in the same direction. The market is highly regulated and there are many interconnections between the different players: health insurances, hospitals, physicians, software providers, etc…

Gieri Cathomas: Let us look 15 years into the future: what solutions can patients look forward to, which were initiated or co-initiated by digitalswitzerland?

Nicolas Bürer: I would like to start by pointing out that it is not so much what digitalswitzerland can do, but what the whole health ecosystem will initiate which is important. We are a small piece of the puzzle. And we need all actors in the health sector to work on new initiatives together.

To outline possible new solutions for the health sector, I would like to mention our industry-focused workstream in “Life Science, Health and Food”, which will certainly launch new initiatives in the coming years. I believe that Riva Digital will continue to prosper and become a successful and internationally connected healthcare community in the next decade. I expect we will be engaged with the health industry through our politico-economic workstream and our collaboration with government representatives. We will also continue our efforts to raise awareness for this topic with the Swiss population during our flagship event, Digital Day. Successful transformation always needs the support of the population and this can only be achieved through dialogue with the public.