Estonia is a great testbed for new health tech solutions
Last week, the very first Estonian Health Tech Week took place. One of the days was dedicated to digital therapeutics, and the DTx New Nordics conference was held in Tartu. The conference brought together policymakers, ecosystem representatives, industry experts, healthcare professionals, health tech startups from Estonia and abroad to share the best practices and discuss possible collaborations.
Riina Sikkut, the Estonian Minister of Health, had the honour to open the conference and take part in the very first panel. Sikkut said that although we in Estonia tend to be critical about our healthcare system, we often receive compliments from foreign visitors. They notice that we have something special here, but at the same time, we ourselves know that we still have a long way to go. She added that we are unique – Estonia is a good pilot site; we can test our solutions and collect valuable data.
However, Sikkut stressed that we must focus more on the digital and on smart solutions, even if there is specific knowledge and more research money abroad. Our advantage, actually, is the fact that Estonia is small. Bigger systems tend to be slower, so we need to make use of the advantages we have.
Kamal Jethwani, the CEO and co-founder of Decimal.health, shared interesting statistics about the US. He said that there is a 30% shortage of nurses in the US hospitals, and more physicians are burnt out and leave the system than there are being trained. Also, many primary care physicians are retiring.
“We are investing in technology because otherwise we cannot solve the healthcare workforce issue,” Jethwani said. He added that it is vital to find ways for the nurses and physicians to do more without them being burned out. One possibility for that is to develop and use smarter technology that would support the workforce more. According to Jethwani, strategic, systematic, and validated use of technology is going to be an integral part of any healthcare system.
Karl Henrik Peterson, the chief digital transformation officer at the Estonian Health Insurance Fund, said that we must not forget about the patient and how they see this topic. The patient comes to the doctor’s appointment, and the doctor spends a lot of time dealing with data, instead of focusing fully on the patient. The challenge is how do we get the time for the doctor to pay attention to the patient and not have to deal with data entry, he elaborated.
It is important to add that the aim of digital therapeutics is not to substitute the nurses or doctors but create more possibilities for the patients. Riina Sikkut elaborated that the role of digital therapeutics might at first create more work for the nurses and doctors, but in the long term, it will be worth it. In order for new solutions to spread and find users, the creators need to find doctors that are willing to use new technology and recommend it to their colleagues and patients.
Kamal Jethwani emphasized that there needs to be a mind shift – machines or digital therapeutics can actually do some things better than we can, and we should use these to our advantage. If we use technology strategically, it will be beneficial for all.
Jethwani also pointed out that Estonian startups that are working on new solutions should not be taken back by the fact that Estonia is so small. On the contrary, as mentioned before, it is a great testbed. Real-world evidence means a lot – even if you have 200 people from Estonia that have used your solution and you have the data, then this is very valuable, Jethwani explained and added that it is much cheaper and faster to test new solutions here than in the US.
Katrina Laks, the CEO and co-founder of Migrevention and the co-founder of DTx Estonia, agreed that Estonia can be a great place for testing innovative solutions, but then you must branch out to foreign markets if you truly want to succeed. Karl Henrik Peterson added that the Health Insurance Fund is always interested in solutions that are export-ready since this means that they are tested and strong. This will increase the Fund’s interest to support these solutions in the Estonian market as well.
DTx New Nordics conference was organized by Tartu Biotechnology Park, Estonian Connected Health Cluster (led by Tehnopol), EIT Health, The City of Tartu, DTx Estonia, ScanBalt BioRegion, Bright. Supporters: European Regional Development Fund, COSME programme by the European Union.
Check out the conference gallery here.