June issue: “Digital health – moribund or healthy?!”

Let’s keep it short: The pandemic has “shaken up” our everyday life and our world of thought. But not only that, it seems it has given digitalisation a powerful boost. The proof is still out. The sustainability is unclear. But let us leave the glass half full. To read and know that the interest of health professionals in digital solutions for the care and support of their patients may have increased by leaps and bounds makes one sit up and take notice and can be classified as a welcome signal. Why is the question of digital health, or digitalisation in the healthcare sector, relevant? It is about our health, everyone’s health, and it is about the use of the latest information and communication technologies. At the latest with the pandemic, it should finally be clarified that health is to be understood as an investment and not as a cost. A subtle difference of an alienating species of semantic lovers? Far from it. This change of perspective could prove groundbreaking. For: understanding health as an investment means consistently investing in health promotion, prevention, empowerment and “involvement” of the patients of all. The result: competent people who are enabled/empowered by competent health professionals to deal with their health and illness in the best possible way in everyday life. The investments increase, but the costs due to health-incompetent behaviour decrease. Health is finally at the centre of attention. The pivotal point is then the well-being and quality of life of the empowered and health-competent citizens. Now to the term “digital health”. There are many definitions. In short, it is the use of information and communication technologies, services and healthcare processes to promote, maintain and restore individual health. The eHealth era has created the necessary technical structures and conditions, i.e. the indispensable infrastructure. Digital Health can and should use technologies such as Big Data, robotics, artificial intelligence or genomics. Now, let’s pause for a moment – something we have learned since the pandemic at the latest – and ask ourselves: What about the digital health of everyone and health professionals? The division into moribund or healthy certainly falls short. Black-and-white drawings probably always are, but adequate and useful when it comes to simplifying a complex situation. Digital competences/skills are the base of Digital Health. They enable people to use digital solutions to positively influence their own health and the way they deal with illness. Health professionals are additionally challenged. In addition to their own digital competence, it is their mandate to promote and empower that of patients. Here we are at the beginning. There is a particular need for research on a sound understanding of the digital competences/skills of health professionals. Because this understanding is the starting point for promoting those of patients. Health professionals from their respective disciplines are still not involved in digital health on an equal footing – often due to a lack of knowledge. But the complexity should not be played down. It is also about the lack of opportunities for participation in the field of actors or about economic incentives and financial rewards with regard to digital health. The dimensions of Digital Health in healthcare sometimes seem endless, if not overwhelming, and actually leave no care offering, process, task or intervention untouched. These range from virtual learning, interprofessionality in the electronic patient record, interoperability of systems, simulation of process models for optimal care, health management based on applications, the use of robotics, decision-making for optimal health care processes based on data and artificial intelligence, or personalised medicine to the inclusion of patients and relatives thanks to digital solutions. But it hardly touches on one thing: The human relationship, the human emotionality needs a human counterpart. The indications will perhaps even increase exponentially and already seem to want to make themselves heard, even if not yet very shrilly. The human relationship must remain. The manner is changing. But it must not be an option at any moment, and certainly not as a mere thought. It could even be that the successful human relationship turns out to be the “success maker” of healthy Digital Health. This also means that Digital Health requires an analogue transformation. Our human togetherness and social interactions will take on a new, perhaps even more significant and certainly more conscious significance. So what is the diagnosis of Digital Health? Moribund or healthy? Neither. That would be too easy. It is risky to make a diagnosis. An assessment of the diagnosis should be made, which can be interpreted as an incomplete alternative, but which provides indications. According to the motto “the world belongs to the brave” (Theodor Fontane, 1819-1898), it is not an alternative to orient oneself on “he who does nothing, does nothing wrong”, because we also know that in many situations involving human life, “he who does nothing, certainly makes a mistake”. Therefore, a snapshot conclusion: Digital health needs new ways of thinking, digital competences/skills and new roles in the health sector. New roles in the sense of bridge builders to the industry, bridge builders within the organisation, the discipline and also the team in the respective healthcare setting. A surreal idea that gives off a moribund scent? Let’s shape the future of digital health and see what it takes to “resurrect” the healthy parts of a still rather moribund digital health.


  1. Deloitte Insights. (2019). Forces of change – The future of health. Retrieved from https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/insights/us/articles/5169_forces-of-change-future-of-health/DI_Forces-of-change_Future-of-health.pdf
  2. Snowdon, A. (2020). Digital Health: A Framework for Healthcare Transformation. Retrieved from https://go.himss.org/digital-health-a-framework-for-healthcare-transformation.html
  3. Wanner, C. (2020). The Swiss healthcare system is upgrading. Retrieved from https://www.srf.ch/news/schweiz/schub-fuer-digitalisierung-das-schweizer-gesundheitswesen-ruestet-auf
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AUTHOR: Friederike J. S. Thilo

Prof. Dr Friederike Thilo is Head of Innovation Field "Digital Health", aF&E Nursing, BFH Health. Her research focuses are: Design collaboration human and machine; technology acceptance; need-driven development, testing and evaluation technologies in the context of health/disease; data-based care (artificial intelligence).

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