Encourage digital platforms rather than niched services in the healthcare sector

Anna Essén, Assistant Professor at House of Innovation, Stockholm School of Economics

Build platforms instead of single services, use the legal framework in entrepreneurial ways and embrace unpredictability in the innovation process. These are some recommendations researcher Anna Essén presents in an SNS Research Brief on how to succeed with digitalization in the healthcare sector.

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In the report, Anna Essén compiles results from several qualitative research studies that theorised the development of one of the Swedish National Quality Registries. With just over a hundred such registries in Sweden, Essén focuses on the Swedish Rheumatology Quality Register; SRQ. This register contains information about individuals’ conditions, care actions and outcomes. Initially, only rheumatologists used the register and only on a small scale; but then researchers, the pharmaceutical industry and, not least, the patients themselves successively added to and developed the SRQ. Today, the register is a shared resource among these actors.

The SRQ is an example of an innovation that developed continuously during the implementation process in an unpredictable and decentralized way.

– The register constitutes a unique opportunity to study elements of a successful digital healthcare initiative. It also makes it possible to identify factors that could have eased and advanced the innovation process, says Anna Essén, Assistant Professor at House of Innovation, Stockholm School of Economics.

Essén makes several suggestions for how financiers and policy makers can support future digital innovation processes.

– I especially wish to highlight the importance of encouraging entrepreneurial law, for example, by investing in juridical labs. Often the law is seen as a restriction inhibiting exchange of data between different instances. This does not have to be the case; the law provides opportunities, not just restrictions, says Essén.

Essén also suggests investing in platforms that enable the innovation of various services, as opposed to focusing on single services that cater to a specific need. A platform makes it possible to add functionality successively for different actors and ensures a living healthcare system rather than a static service.

The report is part of the SNS research project Health care in the 21st century.