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Revolutionizing Welfare

The Impact of e-Health and Digitalization in the Sector

Dive into our insightful interview with our client Pulsen Omsorg, where they share their vision for revolutionizing the industry through cutting-edge e-Health solutions—a big thank you to Magnus Skebäck, CEO of Pulsen Omsorg AB, and Stina Thorell, Chief Operating Officer, for sharing their valuable insights.

SIGMA IT POLAND: Sweden’s exceptional social welfare standards have gained recognition worldwide. Before we dive into digitization and e-Health innovations, could you briefly overview how your welfare system is organized?

PULSEN OMSORG: In Sweden, our legal system is divided into 290 municipal units, each with the autonomy to be closer to voters. Municipalities take care of schools, cities, and social welfare, which includes financial aid, helping children from violent homes, taking care of violent young adults, and elderly care, including assistance at home to keep people independent. The smallest municipality, up to 2700 people, has the same obligations as the one with 1 million people. Municipalities do not directly manage healthcare, as it falls under the responsibility of regional bodies. Despite the complexity, Sweden is firmly committed to social welfare, which sets it apart from other European countries.

As societies continue to age and individuals live longer, how is this demographic shift being addressed?

The shift is being addressed on all levels, from the highest political level to local municipalities and enterprises. Like other Western European countries, Sweden is experiencing a notable demographic transition as its population ages. We observe individuals born in the 1940s enjoying extended lifespans and leading more active lives. However, as they advance in age, they also encounter a higher prevalence of health issues. Notably, Sweden stands as the fourth or fifth country globally in terms of greater sales of diapers to senior citizens than to children, signifying an issue that needs attention.

It seems like a sign of our times. What’s the most significant change in taking care of older people nowadays?

In the past, it was common for families to take care of their elderly members. However, in Sweden, we are experiencing a shift towards individualism and moving away from traditional family care. As a result, even though family members still provide 40% of welfare in Sweden, this safety net is shrinking. This trend highlights the increasing need for alternative sources of support as the traditional family care system becomes less reliable. Going forward, it’s perfectly clear that digitalization plays a huge part in the solution.

Pulsen Omsorg has been active for over 30 years in the welfare sector. How is the industry changing under the influence of technology?

Sweden is turning to technology to address the challenge of an aging population and the need for more efficient care. For example, video visits can substitute in-person care during nighttime, while automated dispensers can provide medication. Fall detection technology is also being used to monitor homes for accidents. The trend toward digitalization is seen as crucial to providing adequate care for those in need. Most municipalities are now more aware of the situation and understand the need for technical help to manage the increasing eldercare demands. They might not have known it before, but they do now.

What caused this change in mindset?

Sweden has the vision to become the world’s leading country in e-Health technology, but there are coordination problems among the various authorities and municipalities involved. The responsibility and funding are divided, creating a challenging situation. This goal was set for 2025, and time is running out. Our system needs to be more efficient and user-friendly, as accessing social welfare services digitally is difficult.

What’s the challenge, and how can technology fix it?

If you need a doctor today, you have five apps; if you need to contact your social worker, you still rely on the phone. This poses a problem, as verifying identities and exchanging information efficiently is challenging. Digitalization is the key to improving access to information and addressing this issue. It involves adopting modern technologies like cloud computing and AI. However, it is important to consider GDPR compliance while implementing digitalization to ensure privacy and data security. Also, as I mentioned earlier, some 40% of the welfare is provided by family members. As we see how older generations are becoming increasingly tech savvy, we see a huge potential in involving both users and their family members.

Can you provide a real-life scenario highlighting the significance of proper communication and identity check?

In social welfare, different parts don’t communicate well with each other, causing problems. For example, if a family has children in care and a father being investigated for violence, the two parts don’t talk to each other, even though they are part of the same system. The government must also communicate better with other authorities about taxes and money. To address this, a new law is being introduced to improve communication between authorities and prevent criminal activity in the system.

As Sweden aims to position itself as a global leader in e-Health technology, exploring the local innovations driving this ambitious vision is crucial. Could you elaborate on the cutting-edge advancements in this field within the country?

E-Health is rapidly advancing with new inventions and startups moving in. However, the problem lies in the scattered nature of these innovations. For instance, some startups have developed non-invasive devices that can monitor a person’s movements and detect their health status. Innovative devices utilize infrared technology to track and analyze an individual’s movements. This means we can distinguish between activities like push-ups or walking and detect health conditions such as strokes and falling.

What challenges does Sweden face in implementing e-Health technologies?

The challenge is that it’s difficult for startups to deploy their inventions nationwide due to regulatory issues, serviceability, and compliance with EU regulations. Therefore, scaling up these innovations in the healthcare sector is a challenging task. With the increasing prevalence of IoT devices, managing security and platform integration has become a pressing need. Having ten devices from ten different suppliers with ten apps can be a daunting experience. The good news is that more homogeneous approaches are coming. In Sweden, procurement for everything can be a hassle, but this can be easily overcome with the right solutions. Furthermore, I’m a strong believer in increased co-operation across entities and enterprises in the sector. In areas that are not affected by competition law, there is a huge potential for example in offering supplementary solutions to the benefit of both users, family members and the social services. In line with this, we have recently started a unique co-operation together with another Swedish enterprise.

Has the pandemic provided any insights or lessons regarding these technological advancements?

The pandemic has shown us that we need more technology in our homes and elderly care centers, with more connection between welfare and healthcare. The problem of moving between hospital and home has become more apparent. This is where e-Health products come in, making rehabilitation and information sharing between systems more accessible. With the individual at the center of the process, it’s not a question of if but how we can roll out e-Health products on a scale.

How is the welfare industry in Sweden handling the adoption of cloud services while dealing with a large amount of data?

As personal information is the focus in managing health data, it cannot be stored in the cloud or transmitted via email; hence fax remains the only means of communication between authorities with high security. The municipalities’ interest organization still needs to adopt it, but the situation is improving.

The main challenge lies not so much in technology but in navigating the regulations surrounding the use of personal data. How can the situation be improved?

Discussions at the Swedish and EU level focus on the approval of anonymization or certain limitations on data to enable data-driven insights in healthcare. However, the welfare system is challenging due to its connectedness, making it hard to anonymize and utilize the data. However, estimating future trends using data insights and demographic projections is being discussed extensively.

Can you explain why data anonymization is essential for data analysis, specifically regarding technology?

A team of researchers is delving deep into data analysis using advanced technologies like Artificial Intelligence. The aim is to improve decision-making and provide better help to those in need. However, the sensitive nature of the data, which includes cases of child abuse and threats to individuals with secret identities, poses a challenge. Moreover, the researchers need to be more robust due to the small size of municipalities, making it challenging to train AI. The team is exploring ways to anonymize data and train the AI on a larger dataset to overcome these obstacles. The goal is to derive insights while also ensuring data privacy and security.

What other insights can be unlocked through advanced data analysis of this nature?

We are working on a new BI (Business Intelligence) platform that will be launched later this year. It will help us detect any misuse of public funds in-home care, which is a significant issue. We have developed algorithms to identify such misuse, which will be applied to customer data. However, we cannot use the same algorithms across customers due to privacy concerns. We are doing our best but need EU and US regulations to move forward with data science. Once we can move to the cloud, we can utilize the benefits of US companies.

You have extensive experience working with the public sector. What are the critical considerations for such clients? And I understand that you typically enter long-term contracts with them.

For municipalities, their needs can vary widely. Some prefer stability and resist change, while others have aggressive digitalization agendas and want to be the most innovative municipality in Sweden. Our approach is to focus on the future and ensure our products remain relevant and innovative for years. We encourage our clients to think beyond their immediate needs and consider the long-term vision. We are particularly well-suited for those municipalities that are ambitious and want to be at the forefront of innovation. Software should continually be updated, and we work to stay ahead of the curve. While it may not be the most exciting work, our clients must take risks and be pioneers in their field.

Can you tell us more about your goals for the future?

As a company providing new software for municipalities since 1987, we have targeted a specific group with one solution. We need to find ways to expand our market space and reach further.

How do you plan to achieve this?

To achieve this, we are rapidly moving from the municipality space to the consumer space, where the user is the people getting the services. We are working on providing more control to the users, such as allowing them to decide when they want to get served and get the help they need. We are also focusing on the user’s experience and taking steps to involve the next of kin.

We are building an ecosystem where new services can be provided, like automatic medicine replacement or extra cleaning, and payment can be made by the next of kin to offer more benefits. We want to focus on the individual and allow them to live good lives, even if they need care.

Is it possible for companies like Pulsen Omsorg to expand internationally?

We have investigated larger markets like Germany, France, Spain, and the Netherlands. However, we have found that healthcare systems are different and scattered in these countries with fewer significant players. We are currently developing products which can be used in many countries. We have already targeted the extensive three or four private healthcare and social welfare providers in Sweden and are working on getting them on board with our system. We aim to deliver the system to all the major players in Sweden within the next two years, allowing us to expand our network and reach more people and companies.

It was truly insightful to hear about your vision for Pulsen Omsorg and your passion for improving the lives of individuals through technology. Thank you for the interview.

Thank you.

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