"Digitalisation is important, but relationships still remain crucial"

Anne-Geneviève Bütikofer, director of the organisation "H+ Die Spitäler der Schweiz" (H+ Hospitals in Switzerland), explains in an interview her view on the subject of digitalisation in the healthcare sector and why strong brands are necessary there today as a differentiating feature. 

Our survey clearly shows that there is a great need for information. This is attempted primarily through the official websites of hospitals and clinics. It also became clear, however, that patients almost everywhere trust that their doctors will refer them to a suitable health facility. 

Ms Bütikofer, according to the latest hospital and clinic barometer from H+, the number of patients who research the Internet before visiting a doctor or hospital is growing. Does this really lead to the desired outcome according to your survey?  

In your opinion, how should hospitals respond to this changed consumer behaviour? What do they have to offer the seekers?

It is important that users can easily find out about the range of services offered by a hospital. Furthermore, certain administrative steps, such as the possibility of online patient admission, should also be offered. The topic of "quality" is also becoming increasingly important. Here, however, we are faced with the challenge that the quality data are complex and difficult for laypersons to interpret. Therefore, we must try to break them down as easily as possible, without losing valuable information or leading to misinterpretations. 

How can you measure the quality of treatment? Which criteria should be taken into account?

According to the Health Insurance Act, hospitals and clinics, whether in the fields of acute somatics, psychiatry or rehabilitation, must measure their quality and publicly report it. The hospitals meet these requirements with the nationally uniform quality measurements of the ANQ (National Association for Quality Development in Hospitals and Clinics) and thus contribute to transparency. The measurements and their results also promote the hospital's own quality efforts. The criteria and requirements vary depending on the measurement and are developed by technical experts.

With Spitalinfo.ch, H+ operates its own information platform. How do they differ from other offers?

Spitalinfo.ch is aimed not only at patients and their relatives but also at health professionals and other interested parties. We want to support users in their search for the right hospital by highlighting the services provided by the individual facilities. But also quality data are not neglected. In comparison to other platforms, we deliberately avoid rankings, as quality data are only suitable for comparisons to a limited extent. Spitalinfo.ch builds on transparency so that the user can form his own opinion and thus find the suitable hospital tailored to his needs. 

You know the importance of strong hospital brands from your work as a member of the board of directors of Insel Gruppe AG. What role does brand building play in healthcare today in order to survive in competition? 

While the brand has not been so important in the health care sector for a number of years, especially in hospitals, the situation has intensified with increasing competitive pressure. A strong and trustworthy brand has a positive influence on the patients' greater room for manoeuvre when choosing a service provider. Therefore, all areas that contribute to the building of trust and thus to a positive image transfer must be recorded. This ranges from a uniform, differentiated language and appearance in the corporate identity and design, to measures across the entire keyboard of communication and marketing, including corporate social responsibility issues. Equally important for a brand are personnel issues such as employer branding, diversity and equal opportunity issues, and the opportunities that a company's employees have to reconcile their professional and private lives. 

How does digitalisation change communication with patients and the role of hospital brands? 

Despite increasing digitalisation, direct communication between healthcare professionals, whether nurses or doctors, remains one of the most important means in the doctor-patient relationship, or in the relationship between nurse and patient. Because communication, especially in one's own language – as has also been shown in past surveys of hospital and clinic barometers – is an important good for patients. However, digitalisation in communications is increasingly simplifying the corresponding processes. For example, guests in the new bed house at Triemli City Hospital can use a multifunctional screen on the bed to directly place orders for their food and this information is then sent directly to the kitchen. At the Inselspital, for example, patients can already register online for admission to the hospital. 

What should good patient relationship management look like today?

It should focus primarily on the patient. This means that all actions in a hospital must be directed towards the sick. The Lean concept, which is used by more and more hospitals and clinics in Switzerland, follows exactly this approach, with the extremely positive effect that both patients and employees are more satisfied. 

According to various studies, Switzerland ranks rather in the midfield in terms of digitalisation in the healthcare sector. Will the introduction of the electronic patient record change this? 

It will certainly contribute to the fact that something is moving in the area of digitalisation in Switzerland as well. But whether it will be the big driver for digitalisation is rather questionable in my eyes. Its goal is the exchange of important medical data between patients and service providers. But to achieve this, the electronic patient record would also have to be mandatory for all parties involved. 

After all, technology is only one aspect of digitalisation; the attitude of employees and the processes are another. What role do you attribute to change management in the context of digital change? 

In addition to optimising work processes, digitalisation also improves the quality of care and increases patient safety. But the step there should be accompanied by a change management system in addition to the modernisation of the infrastructure. Attitudes must change, fear of new technologies must be overcome, working methods should be reviewed and processes dematerialised. Digitalisation in the healthcare sector is an opportunity for hospitals, which opens up new opportunities overall. This process will affect all healthcare professions, for example through the use of robots or the strengthening of quality and patient safety through intelligent programmes and the optimisation of medical data flows. But without the support of employees at all levels, this is difficult to achieve. 

Anne-Geneviève Bütikofer was elected as the new Director of "Swiss Hospitals" on 7 June 2018. She was also appointed to the OdASanté Board of Directors on 13 June 2018 and is its Chairwoman. The 45-year-old lawyer is very familiar with the Swiss healthcare system and has an excellent network. Since 2011, Anne-Geneviève Bütikofer has been Secretary General for the Swiss Medical Association (FMH). From 2008 to 2011, she was Director General of Health in the Department of Economic Affairs and Health of the canton of Geneva and, before that, Head of the Cross-Border Cooperation Service for the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (2005-2008) and Legal Compliance Manager for the toy manufacturer Hasbro (2001-2004). She has also worked as a lawyer in the Federal Department of Justice and Police and the Department of Justice, Health and Security of the canton of Neuchâtel. 

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