Is collaboration a key factor in healthcare service innovation?

17 Apr 2020 | Published by Jaime García-Rayado, Vicente Pina & Lourdes Torres

Illustration: Colourbox

As in other European countries, the Spanish healthcare system must deal with numerous challenges to improve the quality of its services, while ensuring its sustainability. Accessibility to certain healthcare services throughout the country is difficult due to a geographically dispersed population. In addition, population ageing means there is also an increasing number of patients with multiple chronic diseases.

Digital innovation projects have been developed in response to these challenges. These projects require collaboration between different partners due to the need to combine different types of specialized knowledge (such as healthcare, IT, and legal knowledge), to ensure patient involvement in testing innovations, and obtain financial support. In TROPICO Work Package 7: Practices of External Collaboration for Service Delivery, four Spanish cases corresponding to three different types of collaboration (network-like, societal, and contract-based partnerships) have been studied:

  • The first type of collaboration analysed is a network-like partnership. It is a non-contractual partnership headed by a public non-profit association. This first case, under the leadership of a public non-profit association, is also composed of four regional public healthcare systems in Spain and a private technology company, initiated in order to develop a Computerised Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CCBT) for mild and moderate distance treatment of depression. Link:
  • The second type of collaboration analysed is a societal partnership. It is a non-contractual partnership headed by a private entity. This second case, under the leadership of a private entity, is also composed of regional healthcare and social service systems in Spain, one public research centre and two private technology companies, aiming at developing a digital integrated patient-centred care model that allows the monitoring and care of older chronic patients in acute phases at home, while providing opportunities for patient education and a decision support system for healthcare staff. Link:
  • The third type of collaboration analysed is a contract-based partnership. It is a contractual partnership headed by either a public or a private entity. In this type of collaboration two cases were studied: one case headed by a private entity and another case headed by a public entity. The contract-based partnership under the leadership of a private company was also composed of two private companies, one public research centre and five hospitals, set up to develop an app that incorporates artificial intelligence into mobile phones to analyse data from visual explorations and help physicians to determine whether a non-collaborative patient (e.g., children) has a visual impairment. The contract-based partnership under the leadership of a public hospital was also composed of two private companies, one technology company and another hospital supplies company was initiated to develop a new system for the services provided by the hospital outpatient pharmacy unit, including improvements to electronic prescription, an automatic storage and dispensing system, and the complete traceability of medicines (from medical coding to the use of an app to monitor the patient’s treatment). Link:

Our findings show that innovation requires adequate collaboration between partners from the public and private sector because these entities have different skills and specialized knowledge. In the three above-mentioned types of collaboration, private sector contribution to the design of tailored digital tools (apps) has been crucial to providing innovation in the delivery of external public services. The main contributions of the public sector partners relate to:

  • the selection of the service to be enhanced through digital tools,
  • the involvement of the medical staff needed for testing the viability and usefulness of the innovation, and
  • the facilitation of relevant information and data sharing with the private sector partner. It is critical for the development of the innovation, in accordance with data protection and specific privacy requirements in the healthcare sector.

This shows that interdisciplinary collaboration and digitalisation are two complementary dimensions, which have recently become key factors for enabling a successful completion of ICT innovation projects. The four Spanish case studies mentioned in this blog post, along with case studies from Belgium, Denmark, Estonia and the Netherlands will be presented and analysed in detail in two TROPICO Work Package 7 research reports coming later this year.