Facing the silver tsunami – with a little help from patients

“Healthcare systems all around the world are facing exactly the same problems”, said Hal Wolf III, president and CEO of HIMSS, in his opening speech at the HIMSS & Health 2.0 European Conference that is currently taking place in Helsinki, Finland. “The silver tsunami will bring extra disease burden. And since we simply don’t have enough money to build all the hospitals we want and pay all the healthcare workers we need, we will have to reinvent the way that we deliver care.” The WHO, according to Wolf, has calculated that already today there is a shortage of 7 million healthcare workers worldwide. Twelve years further down the road, this number will have at least doubled.


The big question of the years to come, thus, is how to bring to the individuals the care they need, instead of shipping individuals to care institutions. This is where digitisation has a lot to offer. But a different care geography can only be part of the answer to the silver tsunami. Societies, said Wolf, will also have to increase their efforts to implement prevention, taking into account not only traditional risk factors, but also broader physical and not least social determinants of health.

Such an encompassing care and prevention ecosystem can only work if the relevant data of different domains is made accessible for research and healthcare planning. This was why Finland has recently created a new law on the secondary use of health and social data, said Päivi Sillanaukee, permanent secretary of the Finnish ministry of social affairs and health. Part of it is the creation of a national Data Permit Authority called Findata that will begin offering its services in early 2020.

Talking to Hal Wolf, Sillanaukee said patient data ownership was a crucial factor to make overarching, interoperable big data platforms like Findata a success. At the moment, the Finnish legislation is consent-based, but there are also certain opt-out scenarios. In the future, Sillanaukee expects an increase in “MyData”-based data management and consent concepts. And she strongly encouraged other Nordic countries to join and the EU to think into the direction of MyData-based legislation, too.


Patient ownership of data will be a crucial factor when it comes to analysing health-related data from various sources and applying AI algorithms to foster prevention, diagnosis and treatment. But in order to make healthcare future-proof and healthcare digitisation a success, patients also need to be involved in the development process of tools, applications, and care concepts: “Patients don’t always want to be the problem, they want to be the solution. Don’t just give us a voice but involve us”, said Stefanie Veraghtert, director & founder of The Big C, a social enterprise that is all about health awareness and empowerment.

Veraghtert, who survived advanced stage cervical cancer at the age of 26, urged digital health developers to radically think from the user experience in order to make their tools and solutions more fitting to the real needs of citizens and patients alike: “Patient involvement in the industry is still very weak. Patients should not only be consulted once in the beginning, but again and again. We need patients as co-creators all the way through the design thinking process.”


At the end of day 1, over 2850 visitors from 55 countries had registered for this year’s HIMSS & Health 2.0 Conference in Helsinki already. They can listen to sessions in numerous conference tracks and also talk to representatives of 140 exhibitors. Into the direction of the host country, Wolf said that there were few places in the world that were such hotbeds of innovation as Finland. And he announced that the next HIMSS & Health 2.0 European Conference in 2020 will again take place in Helsinki, from 26 to 28 May.

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