Dr. Andreas Schönenberger talks about the healthcare system in Switzerland in an interview

Healthcare of tomorrow. How apps and robots are driving the digitalization of the industry.

The issue of healthcare is on the front burner more than it has been in a long time. And so is the ongoing digitalization, which is also gaining momentum in this industry. What will Switzerland's healthcare system of tomorrow look like? The current situation, future challenges, and new opportunities from a health insurance perspective.

The coronavirus has catapulted the issue of healthcare into the focus of society. Even before the pandemic, it was apparent that health was becoming an increasingly important subject for the general public. A healthy diet and fitness are becoming more and more crucial.

One company that deals with the topic of health on a daily basis is the Sanitas Group. In an interview, CEO Dr. Andreas Schönenberger discusses the changes in the industry and the opportunities offered by the digitalization of the healthcare system.

Dr. Schönenberger, how is the Sanitas Group reacting to the increasing focus on the healthcare sector?

Dr. Andreas Schönenberger*: It is gratifying to see that the people in this country are paying more attention to the issue. They are viewing healthcare today in a completely different light. So are health insurers. In the past, the responsibility of health insurance was solely to provide financial support to individuals in the case of illness. Today, however, health insurers understand their task much more broadly, especially in view of social and technological developments. This means, first and foremost, that we are always there for our policy holders when they fall ill. At the same time, we want to support our clients in promoting their health. Sanitas' vision is to be a comprehensive health partner for people – from the cradle to the grave.

How are you turning your vision into reality?

On the one hand, we try to make it easier for people to access healthcare, and not only in terms of paying their medical bills. On the other hand, we want to help healthy people to stay healthy. To this end, we provide various products and services – particularly in digital form. They are designed to support our clients in their everyday lives and help them navigate through the healthcare system: in prevention, during periods of illness, after recovery, or even permanently in the case of chronic illnesses.

With the aid of our (digital) offerings, we want to support our clients in their everyday lives, simplify their access to healthcare, and guide them in their decision-making.

Dr. Andreas Schönenberger, CEO of the Sanitas Group

Digital services have recently gained in importance globally as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic – both privately and in the business world. How did you manage this situation at Sanitas?

I've been involved in the operational management of the Sanitas Group since last year, and I can say that we've changed a lot since then. That's probably due to my previous positions at Google and Salt (laughs). Even before the coronavirus pandemic, our clients were able to communicate with us digitally. So, we were easily able to keep our advisory services up and running during the crisis.

We even introduced laptops for all employees and applications for video calls or simplified digital collaboration before the coronavirus broke out. In addition, we eliminated traditional offices and set up stations for desk sharing and zones for creative collaboration. As a result, employees were already familiar with new forms of work and were well prepared to work from home. The operational part of our business continued practically the same – and we even worked through some tasks.

How important is a reliable financial partner in such a time of crisis?

We were, and still are, in a very dynamic economic environment. It is therefore important to have a competent and trustworthy banking partner – and by this I mean both the bank itself and the advisors, innovative solutions, expertise, and experience. We have always been able to count on Credit Suisse in these areas, both during our many years of partnership and today.

What lessons have you learned from the pandemic?

The pandemic has shown that our healthcare system is generally working well. It must be able to respond flexibly to needs, even in extreme situations. In addition, digital services have become more important. For example, the number of people contacting us using our chat feature has risen sharply.

In my opinion, the crisis has highlighted three important things. Firstly, the population is very flexible and can adapt quickly to new conditions and options in extreme situations. Secondly, citizens and healthcare providers are also prepared to communicate digitally with important partners such as health insurers. And thirdly, data protection and cybersecurity are of central importance due to rapid digitalization. Thanks to our ongoing efforts, we can guarantee our clients maximum data security at all times.

Looking to the future, how do you think the healthcare sector will develop?

In connection with this question, we published our first Sanitas Health Forecast this year. In it, we asked average Swiss citizens and around 60 experts what they thought the healthcare system might look like in the future. We have thus launched a publication that addresses all age groups and all genders and presents a wide range of views and insights on various health topics. The Sanitas Health Forecast is not a scientific work, but it is intended to encourage reflection.

As an expert, what do you say?

Developments in the healthcare sector are likely to be driven by ongoing digitalization and technological advances in medicine. Topics will include personalized medicine, robots, remote surgery, and remote monitoring of patients. I also believe that preventive healthcare is developing into a major lifestyle.

Services for self-monitoring and self-optimization are likely to be used more frequently in the future. It is also likely that, in the near future, any data collected will be automatically forwarded via integrated care, for example, from the general practitioner to the specialist. This will enable individual specialists to make a comprehensive diagnosis more quickly and cost-effectively because they know all the facts. However, it is important that clients always have data authority and can decide for themselves what data they want to make available to the various service providers.

Switzerland's healthcare system is very well developed, but entails high costs.

Dr. Andreas Schönenberger, CEO of the Sanitas Group

What do you think needs to change in the healthcare system?

Switzerland's healthcare system is very well developed – but it's expensive. The question for the future is therefore this: How can we improve the quality of the healthcare system, make it easily accessible to everyone, and yet keep it affordable for the whole of society?

And is there a solution for this?

There are a few. One of them could be "digital mobile medicine." Today, people often go to emergency hospitals when they don't need to. With "digital mobile medicine," patients could contact experts via an app, send photos, and discuss their state of health via chat functions or on the phone. But if hospitalization is necessary, nothing will be standing in the way, because no one should be denied access to a doctor. It would also be possible to send prescriptions directly to the pharmacy and the drugs to the patient's home.

Furthermore, the number of hospitals would have to be reduced, and special medicine would have to be optimized on a national level. Misdirected incentives for the service providers would have to be eliminated, and cost transparency and personal responsibility would have to be increased. The whole process would be highly efficient and also very convenient for the clients. But this would require a fundamental change in the way society thinks and in public policy.

To what extent in public policy?

Switzerland has a lot of regulations. But basically, the more regulation, the less competition there is. My wish would be to allow more competition. This would lead to more innovation and generate better prices. Within the framework conditions, of course.

Where do you see further opportunities?

The clear favorite is digitalization. This is key in the healthcare sector, especially with regard to the possibilities in the area of diagnostics and monitoring. We believe we can drive these topics and digital services even further. We already offer services such as our Sanitas Active App and Sanitas Coach, which can be used to record data on blood pressure, movement patterns, and much more. This specially collected data can then be used for both prevention and diagnosis in the event of illness. People no longer have to go to the doctor or hospital to find out more about their body and health – which also reduces costs.

And what about medical practices and hospitals?

There will always be a need for hospitals, but a systemic shakeout in the hospital market would be timely. In Denmark, for example, there are central hospitals that bring together specialists from all over the country. This would make the hospital system more efficient.

And finally, what goals has the Sanitas Group set itself?

COVID-19 has shown us that we are on the right track with the strategy we started last year. We will therefore intensify our efforts. Our goal is to further improve quality in the healthcare industry but to keep costs in proportion through efficiency in the system. We want to provide clients with easy access to healthcare and be a reliable healthcare partner for them. We want to offer convenient, innovative, and efficient solutions.

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