From blended care to virtual reality – the transformation of the healthcare system

The Digital Health innovation field at Bern University of Applied Sciences conducts research in the area of digitalisation and technologisation of healthcare with a focus on nursing. The aim is to generate perceptible added value for users in the collaboration between humans and machines.

The technologisation and digitalisation of healthcare is omnipresent. Due to its central position in health care, the nursing profession is involved in almost all digital processes in health care. For this reason, the Digital Health innovation field of the Bern University of Applied Sciences’ Department of Nursing has been working since 2018 on the design of a collaboration between humans and machines characterised by added value and trust. The research of the innovation field contributes to strengthening the autonomy of the nursing profession with the digitalisation and technologisation of healthcare, to empowering nurses to act actively, to promoting their critical thinking, to strengthening interpersonal interaction, to deepening person-centred caring and to promoting a safe and self-determined lifestyle for patients, residents and clients.

The research team of the innovation field carries out the projects in an interdisciplinary manner and in collaboration with other BFH departments, such as the Departments of Economics, University of the Arts and Medical Informatics. The research focuses on people of all ages – with a particular focus on older people, children and young people. The interdisciplinary approach aims to gain comprehensive knowledge as well as effective, current and sustainable answers to questions of digital transformation.

Examples of digital care

Digitalisation and technologisation are particularly relevant for older people, as they can support them in living longer and in a self-determined manner in their home and familiar social environment. Technologies in the area of fall alarms, early detection of health deterioration, health and activity monitoring or telecare/medicine are of interest here. Digital competences with regard to these safety technologies are particularly important for non-hospital care, for nursing professionals and for nurse practitioners who accompany older people in the home environment. Digital and technological innovations are also of great interest for children and young people. Through their use, the well-being and health of young patients can be promoted. For example, children and adolescents with an oncological or mental illness can be in contact with the hospital, the nursing staff, the doctors, but also with their school via an online platform. They can find advice and supportive information that is presented in an appealing way and in their own language, whether as a game, a quiz or through virtual reality. Likewise, they can exchange information digitally with other affected children who do not live in the same place.

These so-called mHealth applications impart knowledge and confidence in action, for example in dealing with emergency situations or in the self-management of incontinence, asthma or diabetes. Other eHealth offers are blended care models, which consist of a mixture of online interventions and personal contacts between the patient and the health professional. The concept of “hospital at home”, which is still young in Switzerland, enables treatment, therapy and care for patients in their home environment due to technological developments.

Simpler processes thanks to digitalisation

In addition to the development and evaluation of digital services, the team of the innovation field is concerned with simplifying the nursing and care processes by means of digitalisation. The required information should be available in the corresponding process step. This means that instructions for action do not have to be searched for on the intranet, but can be viewed directly when planning measures. Furthermore, digital data collection enables nursing staff to exclude errors as quickly as possible and to evaluate data promptly.

It is important to note that digital processes are not simply a copy of paper-based processes. They generate added value for all those involved in the process by linking different processes with each other. With the help of artificial intelligence methods, automations support the decision-making process in diagnostics, goal setting, action planning and outcome measurement. This has a positive influence on the security of care.

Discourses on the pulse of time

The researchers in the innovation field are nationally and internationally recognised experts in the field of technology and the digital transformation of healthcare with a focus on nursing. An important pillar of the innovation field is continuous networking, for example with the SBK Commission eHealth and Nursing, the newly founded Commission Digital Nursing Science of the Association for Nursing Science, the Competence and Coordination Office eHealth Suisse or the Swiss Center for Design and Health, as well as contact with companies and start-ups in the technology sector. National and international conference activity expands the network and allows discourses on the pulse of time.

The three research topics of the BFH innovation field

1.Demand-oriented technology development The aim is to develop health-relevant technologies in such a way that users consider them effective in everyday life and then also use them in the long term. Development, testing and evaluation are therefore systematic, needs-centred, theory- and method-based and process-oriented. These are technologies from the fields of robotics, eHealth (digital tools) and mHealth (applications on mobile devices) as well as assistance systems.

2. Digital transformation In the research topic of digital transformation, the BFH accompanies processes scientifically, systematically and with the inclusion of best practice, with a particular focus on the nursing profession. In doing so, the BFH primarily addresses the change in culture and values as well as the topic of data use.

3. Data-based care In data-based care, the BFH investigates how and which information is essential for the implementation of the care and treatment process and can be used for decision-making aids (automation, algorithms, artificial intelligence).

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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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