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Nordic cooperation for a more innovative public health sector

The participants worked hard in workshops to identify potential areas for Nordic cooperation. Photo: Magnus Fröderberg.
  • Published 29/05/2013
Can we make the Nordic public health sector a driver of innovation, and move in direction of a Nordic home market for innovative products, services and solutions? Yes, if you ask the participants at the Nordic Health and Welfare Innovation Arena - but it takes a change of mindset.



Go to the end of the article to see pictures, presentations, the list of ambassadors and a summary from the workshops. You will also find the stakeholder overview and the background analysis and document, which we strongly recommend you to read carefully.



Nordic Innovation is increasing its efforts in the area of health and welfare, and had invited decision makers to Stockholm on 22 May to discuss how the Nordic public health sector can become a driver of innovation – and how Nordic cooperation can contribute to this goal.


The commitment was strong among the 90 participants, who, besides from listening to inspiring speeches and eager panel discussions, also worked hard in workshops to identify potential areas for Nordic cooperation.


Annika Rosing, Head of the department for growth and climate at the Nordic Council of Ministers, opened the Nordic Health and Welfare Innovation Arena by underlining the importance of taking advantage of the business opportunities that lie in an aging population.


- There is an urgent need for new, intelligent solutions on a global level, and by combining Nordic strengths we can increase our competitiveness, she said.




Low priority

Peter Emmerich Hansen presented a report that Implement Consulting Group has made on behalf of Nordic Innovation, analyzing the innovation potential within Nordic healthcare. He started out by criticizing the present situation.


- Instead of supporting innovation, current tender processes support existing structures and procurement at lowest costs. In fact, it is hard to be impressed by the level of investment in research and development on healthcare innovation in the Nordic countries, and economic incentives generally favor more of the same.


He said that it is crucial that we encourage an improvement of the entire healthcare system – and that healthcare innovation is the very core of this transformation.


- Healthcare innovation must not be seen as a supplementary to a static healthcare system, but as the engine running the transformation of it. What we need to understand in the Nordic region is that healthcare innovation is already an existing business, not a business to be created. This is a train that we need to be on, and a perfect reason for the five countries to start cooperating. Instead of running numerous small projects in each country, we should join forces and think big, he said.




From activities to results

The message from the participants in the first panel debate of the Arena was clear: The Nordic health sector need a new, common mindset – and the focus needs to change from activities to outcome and concrete results.


- The ageing population is a great opportunity, but also a huge challenge. The costs for welfare will rise tremendously in the coming years. We need to start sharing experiences and knowledge in the Nordic public health sector, said Maria Heimisdottir, chief executive of finance at Landspitali University Hospital.


Anders Bildsøe Lassen, partner at Implement Consulting Group, and Johanna Adami, director of the Health Division at Vinnova, backed her up.


- We have to realize that in 30 years healthcare will be totally changed. The Nordic countries should come together and talk about this transformation, and work together to go from vision to action, Bildsøe Lassen said.


- It is time to think big! We need a common mindset and a common agenda, Adami added.


Susie Ruff, head of innovation and business development/technology transfer at Centre for Innovation and Research, The Capital Region of Denmark, highlighted the importance of an innovation lab to demonstrate solutions.


- We need business cases and concrete examples, she stated.


Katrine Myhre, CEO at Oslo Medtech, said that one of the main challenges is to create a Nordic model for public procurement.


- There are lots of pilot projects in the Nordic health sector, but we are missing a common model.


She also highlighted the lack of dialogue between different actors as a major issue, and the importance of creating arenas where different actors can get together.


- Nordic Innovation has supported three projects* within innovative public procurement that can support a closer dialogue as well as the development of a Nordic model.




Challenge for innovation

Tris Dyson, director of Nesta’s Centre of Challenge prizes talked about how challenge competitions can be used a tool to drive innovation.


- The solution should be about what, not who or how.


Marit Holter Sørensen, head of section at DIFI, presented concrete examples of how the Norwegian public sector drives innovation, including a program for supplier development and a pilot project in Oslo municipality making use of technology in assisted living facilities.


- Innovation shouldn’t just be something new; it should improve something for someone. Therefore it must be based on real needs, she said.




Lack of education and strategy

Anders Wijkman chair for the Committee of Inquiry on Public Procurement, presented the main results from a recently published report in Sweden. Among the issues he mentioned were too much focus on definitions instead of solutions, and on price instead of quality, when procuring. There is also little focus on education in the area, and a lack of leadership, strategy and skills among responsible procurers.


He stressed the importance of creating simpler and more flexible rules, as well as strengthening the support and guidance for public procurement. He also emphasized the value of Nordic cooperation to make public procurement more cost effective and effective in general.


- The public sector should be a frontrunner of innovation, and public procurement has the potential to become a major driver of innovation, Wijkman said.


Lavrans Løvlie, partner at Live/Work, talked about how new service solutions can make a difference. He saw the users as the greatest unexploited resource, and underlined that we need to identify the real needs when innovating.


His advice was to start with the low hanging fruits, as reducing queues, improving phone services, helping people keep their appointments and making sure that handovers are well informed.


- These are all small things that can make a huge difference. What we need above all is a change of mindset.




People in focus

After a whole day of inspirational presentations and intense workshops, it was time for the participants to share their thoughts and ideas in plenary.


When it comes to creating a “Nordic Public Procurement Charter” with common principles for innovative public procurement, among the input was it should have a people-centered approach, support transformative innovation, develop education and training and focus on outcome, not treatment and be technically compatible with existing solutions.


-  Common principles for public procurement can ensure transparency, increase information sharing and stimulate bigger innovation projects and a Nordic home market – but it takes a real commitment to a so called Charter, the participants concluded.


A potential Nordic challenge competition could for example focus on elderly care, patient empowerment, knowledge sharing or organizational improvements. The prerequisites for success is that the competition is realistic and resource-effective with a Nordic relevance.


The participants also discussed common visions and priorities for Nordic cooperation within the health sector, and presented several ambitious goals:

  • The Nordic region should have the happiest people in the world, which live the longest.
  • A safe healthcare driven by innovation, sharing knowledge and best practice in a community with responsible citizens.
  • Nordic HC systems will be world leaders in empowering patients and focusing on future needs and challenges.
  • One Nordic market - see all the countries as one market both for suppliers, health institutions and patient.

Regarding Nordic service innovation, among the suggestions was to establish a Nordic institute for innovation and improvement, identifying opportunities, running pilot projects, fostering collaboration, setting policy agendas and exporting Nordic solutions to the rest of the world.




Duplicate success stories

A final panel debate wrapped up the outcome of the day.


- There is a clear coherence of what need to be done. This is very good news. What we must do now is to define a common picture of what we are going to do together and what we are not going to do together, Annika Rosing said.


Bjørn Grønli, head of innovation at South-Eastern Norway Regional Health Authority, applauded the suggestion of a Nordic institute for innovation and improvement.


- Do not bring in new, big ideas – build on the existing projects and implement these! Why should not a project that has been successful in one Nordic country be duplicated in the others as well? By uniting forces we could accomplish more and save money.


At the end of the Nordic Health and Welfare Innovation Arena, those who wanted could sign up as ambassadors for the effort. So far there are 22 excellent ambassadors - and Nordic Innovation invites everyone interested to join.