The digital dream – healthcare at a distance

10.12.20 | News
Greater use of digital health- and welfare technology will improve welfare in sparsely populated areas. It will also provide a boost to the economy of local communities throughout the Nordic Region and provide access to more flexible and better public services. Bringing this digital dream to life across the entire Region requires political will, trained professionals and greater connectivity. These were some of the main conclusions to emerge from the project Healthcare and Care at Distance 2018–2020, as discussed at the conference Welfare in Sparsely Populated Areas.

“Is it reasonable that the quality of the services available from the welfare system should be determined by postcode?” asked Astrid Krag, Danish Minister for Social Affairs and the Interior. She doesn’t think so. The minister noted that improving conditions for people outside of the big cities requires political will.

Anna Lundgren of Nordregio agreed and pointed out that the digitalisation of health services can help achieve that goal.

“Digitalisation generates economic benefits for individual regions, and provides local people with a more flexible and specialised service that enhances their quality of life,” she said, referring to the report that she co-authored, Digital Health Care and Social Care. The report is part of the priority project: Healthcare and Care at Distance 2018–2020, initiated by the Swedish Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers in 2018.

Political will needed at the top

Various challenges must be overcome before this digital dream can become a reality.

“Overall, there needs to be the political will at the top to build the infrastructure and create the conditions for digital transformation at local level. We also have to overcome barriers related to legal and data-security issues, IT availability, usability and funding. It is also a matter of staffing – we have to ensure that the people responsible have the right skill sets,” Lundgren added.

Digitalisation – a game-changer for staff

Niclas Forsling, from the Centre for Rural Medicine in Sweden, agreed that the staff competencies are crucial, and pointed out that there are shortages of staff in sparsely populated areas. Along with the Nordic Welfare Centre and Nordregio, the Centre for Rural Medicine has studied the challenges related to the upskilling and recruitment of health personnel in sparsely populated areas in the Region, including as part of the Council of Ministers’ project Healthcare and Care at Distance 2018–2020.

“It is a struggle to recruit and retain healthcare staff in sparsely populated areas, but digitalisation can be a positive game-changer,” Forsling said. He identified four new insights that the report brings to the table, specifically that health- and welfare technology makes the work easier and more flexible; frees up more time for important tasks, makes staff feel that what they do is more meaningful and enhances the status of the job. Forsling concluded that this will benefit the working environment in the health and welfare sector and help attract and retain staff in sparsely populated areas.

A Socially Sustainable Nordic Region

Paula Lehtomäki, Secretary General of the Nordic Council of Ministers, also attended the conference. She pointed out that the digitalisation of health and welfare will help to create a socially sustainable Nordic Region. She also noted that, by bringing together actors from different Nordic countries to share experiences in an open, trust-based way, the project and the conference generated added value.

“I think that we in the Nordic Region have a little added advantage due to the extent of social trust here. Trust is an essential element in intersectoral partnerships at local, municipal, national and Nordic level,” she added.