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04 January 2021

The future is digital

Back in the last century, we backpacked through Southeast Asia carrying nothing but worn-out backpacks, our return tickets, and a stash of tatty traveller cheques. No one had heard of online bookings, mobile phones didn’t exist, and we had to struggle through life without Grumpy Cat.

Less than 30 years later, the world has changed dramatically: going from analogue to digital. Apple, Amazon, and Google rule the world. Almost every sector has gone through a massive transformation. The banking and travel industry, being early adopters, have left healthcare far behind.

Anno 2021, and finally handwritten recipes, fax machines and CD-ROMS are fading away. Partly driven by the recent Covid-19 pandemic, digital healthcare has become the Next Big Thing. Growth projections are as high as 12% of healthcare spending by 2025 –  a billion euros (Roland Berger, 2020).

Healthcare is expanding beyond the clinical setting of doctors in white coats assisting patients. Bearded IT experts, big data platforms, and artificial intelligence have entered the healthcare arena. And for good reason: digitalisation impacts self-management, shared decision making, and patient participation.

Research shows that better-informed people make decisions that better reflect their personal preferences, which leads directly to better health outcomes. Digitalisation is a superb way of empowering patients. The benefits are less anxiety, more satisfaction, and better compliance with treatments and lifestyle regimes.

In recent years, the Dutch diagnostic laboratory Saltro – part of Unilabs – has developed a digital results portal with added customer value. Besides showing laboratory testing results, the results are explained in plain language. Independent evaluation shows a positive impact; users gain health insights, are better able to manage their health – and the efficiency of care improves. And every single euro invested leads to a social return on investment of EUR 4.8 (Vital Innovators, 2018).

If we extrapolate this dynamic on to digital healthcare overall, we’re looking at better health, better care, and better value. That ticks all the boxes in a world where more people require medical help, and consequently healthcare spending and the workload of medical professionals are on the rise. Constantly and relentlessly.

The future is digital. For healthcare players, it’s past time to work on a digital health strategy. We’ve already put ours in our backpacks.


Authors: Esther Talboom-Kamp, PhD, CIO Unilabs, and Maaike de Vries, PhD, strategic innovation consultant.