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Debate: Coordinate welfare technology initiatives

There are many promising initiatives in the field of welfare technology underway in Denmark, but we will benefit from them most if these initiatives work closer together, so each can focus on its own particular core competence.

By Allan Flyvbjerg, Dean of the Faculty of Health, Aarhus University

The last few years have seen seeing partnerships in the field of health technology spring up in various locations around Denmark. These initiatives are characterised by the public sector (universities/regions/municipalities) and the private sector (business and industry) reaching out to one another and together creating welfare solutions that will benefit the people of Denmark and society in general.

In Western Denmark the Centre for Healthcare Cooperation at Aarhus University and the Med Tech Innovation Consortium have been established. In Eastern Denmark we now have the Copenhagen Centre for Health Technology and Health Care Denmark in Odense.

Trusting technology

There is a lot of welfare to be gained through the development of solutions in health technology. To take some examples; there are robots that boost the concentration of schoolchildren, electronic pets for restless people with dementia, apps for patients with diabetes or depression, as well as new and gentler operative techniques.

Denmark is wide-open for innovation in the field of health technology. Its citizens are good at accepting the technology. Three out of five Danes have a smartphone, and a lot of public sector contact has been digitised. Danes also trust technology and are generally interested in contributing their data to create new knowledge and solutions.

So we have undreamt of opportunities to benefit from Denmark's great potential as a laboratory for testing welfare technology solutions. However, to be successful it is crucial that the individual initiatives target special focus areas – in other words, that they find out where their own core competence lies.

This is because there is a tendency within research and development of welfare technology, so that across Denmark, we rush to get the same as others have. Which is a shame and a waste of money and competences.

Allocating tasks

If we are to manage in the international competition in the area, we ought to divide up the tasks between us. This is the only way we can ensure strong and unique solutions, each of which can position Denmark as an innovative and knowledge-intensive nation.

My message to the three ministers in the Ministry of Business and Growth Denmark, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Higher Education and Science, together with the academic environments around the country is this: Make sure that we put in place an overall coordination of the initiatives so that we allocate and utilise the potential in the best way possible.

Reuse the model from the healthcare sector, where centralisation of a number of areas of medical specialisation ensures that the competences are concentrated at a few locations in Denmark – for the benefit of patients and healthcare staff. We can benefit from doing the same in the field of health technology initiatives.

We have a particularly strong position in Denmark because of our know-how and initiative. Do not let this turn into a weakness because we cannot find out how to collaborate on allocating these strengths across the country.