Digitalisation in care: pros and cons

20.12.2023 Digitalisation is on everyone’s lips. More and more data, sensors, applications and interfaces are being used, and healthcare is no exception. Friederike J.S. Thilo carries research in this field and explains why digital transformation in care and medicine is desirable and problematic at the same time.

“In the field of digitalisation, it is easy to lose sight of the actual goals because of the numerous digital opportunities. This is the impression I get when I look at digitalisation efforts in healthcare.”

At the head of BFH’s area of innovation ‘Digital Health’, I often come across projects in which aspects of nursing or medical care are digitalised. For all of them, the same opportunities and risks arise.

A technology that makes something simpler, more efficient, more informative and more intuitive creates positive emotions, and thus builds meaningful momentum in its users.

Friederike J.S. Thilo
Friederike J.S. Thilo

Advantage: a remedy for the shortage of skilled workers

Digitalisation in healthcare has the potential to relieve the burden on care professionals, make more targeted use of resources and thus counteract the shortage of skilled workers:

  • Less time wasted: automation gives caregivers more time for their core tasks. For example, automated data collection allows professionals to spend more time on their care and support tasks.
  • Faster decision-making: digitally processed data can help healthcare professionals to make faster and safer decisions. For example, data provides information about patients’ risks and allows early intervention and more targeted treatment.
  • Data made available faster: nowadays, care professionals find it often difficult to access directly and immediately the data they need. As a result, the same information is collected several times and unnecessary expenses are incurred. On the other hand, simple, quickly available and up-to-date information reduces the risk of errors, as assessments, anamneses and findings can be cross-checked.
  • Assessment of the care situation: intelligent algorithms are often better than humans in quickly identifying patterns in large amounts of data. However, humans must always conduct contextualisation. The evaluation of sensor data, vital signs or computerised wound images, for example, allows nursing staff to better plan and implement patient care and the use of human resources.
  • Transmission of information: digital platforms make it possible for care professionals to contact patients, even over long spatial and temporal distances, whether to pass on advice and instructions or to convey information about illnesses, also through playful communication.

Good solutions only emerge when we understand the real problem – not the apparent one.

Friederike J.S. Thilo
Friederike J.S. Thilo

Disadvantage: missing the mark?

What is often overlooked, especially in the context of digitalisation efforts, is the fact that great potential is often associated with risks:

  • Premature introduction: digitalisation seldom hits the mark immediately, even in healthcare. This is often because new technologies are introduced as if they were ready for medical and nursing practice. But it takes courage, criticism and time to thoroughly assess a technology in everyday operations. Only then can the benefits be defined. If there is no benefit, a technology should be immediately rejected.
  • Starting position misunderstood: digital tools often do not help to meet the challenges that arise in practice. The realities faced by nursing and healthcare professionals and patients are often overlooked or incorporated too late in the development process.
  • Analog guidance: if applications are programmed without taking reality into account, it is not (only) down to the developers: discrepancies also arise (in part) due to scarce understanding of digital transformation in care management.
  • Complicated interfaces: health applications are often still rather complicated to use. It would be important to improve usability by developing these systems from the outset with the specialist expertise of nursing staff. Usability is more than a nice-to-have: less time spent on the nursing app means more time devoted to patients.
  • Unused potential: routine data is omnipresent but its importance is often neglected. Data that is not, or only partially, digitalised, or that cannot be shared between different systems to be evaluated, leads to a significant workload and a loss of knowledge on the part of healthcare professionals, and may even compromise patient safety.

The problems are often complex and the interrelationships are not easy to unravel when a digital solution is introduced in healthcare. It helps to take sufficient time to analyse the problems and sharpen the goals to be attained.

The interprofessional approaches practiced at BFH are an excellent way of looking at a problem from the right perspective. This holistic view enables new, resource-efficient solutions. Nevertheless, we need to ask the right questions and seriously involve the expertise of healthcare professionals before programmers get involved.

BFH projects at the interface of digitalisation and health

New projects at the intersection of digitalisation and health constantly emerge. Various people, institutes and departments are involved, creating an amazing diversity of perspectives on digitalisation in healthcare at BFH. Here is an overview of our projects:

  • Reinhard Riedl develops methods and tools for the practical implementation of digitalisation, for example the Leoba software, a software for childcare facilities.
  • In the CuraComm project, Beatrice Kaufmann investigates how digital communication can help care for chronically ill people.
  • In the course of the RAMOS and SafetyFirst projects, Friederike J.S. Thilo tests how modern sensor technology can help care professionals.
  • Dirk Richter studies which digital aids help mentally ill people.
  • Sarah Dégallier Rochat’s CODIMAN project investigates how to produce robots that can work together with people and provide them flexible support.
  • Olha Faryma is developing the BeeHealthy application with the Eat Breathe Move project, which aims to make it easier for children who have fled Ukraine to lead healthy lives.
  • Mascha Kurpicz-Bricki investigates how to find indications of burnout in text data. For a visually effective presentation of the results, she cooperates with colleagues from HKB.
  • In the ‘Prevention of malnutrition’ project, Karin Haas, Sang-Il Kim and their team find out how to educate people on malnutrition and which tools can be used for early detection.
  • Serge Bignens, Eva Soom Ammann and their team help to shape the ‘approches’ app, which is designed to make it easier for family caregivers in the canton of Neuchâtel to access help and support services.
  • Renato Mattli develops and tests an app to encourage senior citizens to lead a balanced lifestyle.