Many countries have struggled to adapt to the shift to remote working and digital communication brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns. However, these tools were already well-utilised in the vast but sparsely populated country of Norway and digital is increasingly being seen as a key component in driving the country’s healthcare industry forward. Here, five industry stakeholders give their take on this hot-button issue.
Norway had already started its digitalisation journey years before [COVID-19]. Digital communication tools are vital in such a long country with five million inhabitants very spread out. The distance from Oslo to the North of Norway is the same as from Oslo to Rome! Traveling around and meeting people here is more difficult than, for instance, in Belgium or the Netherlands.
Even before COVID-19, we were very accustomed to meeting people and interacting digitally. Now, I think this is a heritage we can leverage in building up a national health industry, especially at the intersection between digital, pharma, and medtech.
Looking at the community here in Norway, these digtal tools are much more embedded, accepted and mainstream [than in some other European countries] already. This makes it easier to conduct advisory boards virtually and still have good discussions and outcomes.
There are still challenges, such as the fact that each hospital is working with a different IT infrastructure that is not always compatible with what we are using. That leads to situations where the system cannot be made to work and things need to be postponed, but this is a struggle everyone has faced in the last few months.
We have always used quite a lot of remote meetings in Norway, even prior to COVID-19. The sheer size of the country makes it time-consuming and difficult to travel. Webcast meetings and training by specialists and thought leaders are, and will continue to be, widely used.
The country’s geographical spread has been a factor in its advances in digitalisation, especially in more remote regions. However, the most important reason for this level of digitalisation is the smart people we have in Norway with an interest in data and a general cultural and political curiosity for the field. This represents a great opportunity for us and for our industry.
However, I contend the idea that we were already used to working virtually; this is a massive cultural shift brought about by COVID, not only in Norway, but across Europe and elsewhere. Prior to this year, communicating with doctors virtually was almost impossible, for example. It was a traditional model based on face-to-face contact. However, we have made the transition and been able to maintain important interaction with healthcare professionals during the pandemic.
COVID-19 has really been an eye-opener for the Norwegian healthcare system when it comes to the adoption of new technology. The more interesting question is to see whether this pace of digital transformation will continue into the future. Have we learnt the lessons from the first phase of COVID-19, or will we eventually fall back into old habits when it comes to aspects like the organization of healthcare systems? That does remain to be seen.
Kathrine Myrhe, Norway Health Tech