The ultimate aim of the co-operation between Nordic Medtest and LearningWell is to save lives. They work nationally on quality assurance of e-health services in Sweden. This success story is underpinned by a clear and conscious strategy – to erase the boundaries between employees and consultants.
The Swedish government wants Sweden to offer the world’s best e-health services by 2025. A report by the McKinsey consultancy group that was published in June 2016, suggests that the initiative is set to deliver considerable profit opportunities. Simply digitalising the medical record system used by primary, specialist and elderly care, and social services in Sweden would save SEK 34 billion kronor a year. Nordic Medtest and LearningWell are at the heart of the digitalisation for testing and assuring the quality of the system.
Peter Furster is operations manager at Nordic Medtest, which has its origins in Värmland county council, southern Sweden. He has worked in IT since the 90s and with healthcare for the past 10 years, and says that the initiative in Värmland’s capital city Karlstad is unique in many ways.
“In three years, we’ve gone from being a few individuals in a regional Vinnova project, to being 30 employees and improving patient safety across Sweden. Our mission is to make the healthcare system’s IT platforms safer and more versatile. It’s a complex task. We work with, for example, technical and semantic inter-operability, security, functionality, usability, legal requirements, performance and operational stability. We do this at all phases of system development, from concept to completion.”
To be able to fully implement the project as Inera’s national test partner – the body charged with co-ordinating and developing work on e-health in Sweden – they have chosen a different track. Nordic Medtest doesn’t believe in having a large organisation with exclusively full-time employees. Naturally, this is partly due to financial reasons. However, the main reason is that Nordic Medtest is convinced that it is possible to create more value by having close and transparent co-operation with companies such as LearningWell.
Trust is everything
“We call consultants temporary employees. It shouldn’t matter what it says on your payslip. We work together. That’s why LearningWell has, for example, been involved in developing our core values. The consultants are also invited to conferences, and have helped perform risk analysis prior to the incorporation of the company. By working like this, the company gains considerable experience, knowledge and inspiration.”
Peter notes that everything is about trust. The insight that the consultants gain when they participate in the company strategy discussions is extremely valuable, and could easily be abused. It requires an unusually high degree of openness for the co-operation to work.
“We have very open discussions with LearningWell. When we need something, we always get honest answers. If they don’t have anyone available, or if a given competence is not relevant, they say so. This means that we’re able to identify working solutions straightaway. It also means that we avoid situations where we need to deal with hidden problems later in the process.”
Tord Larsson-Steen heads up LearningWell in Karlstad. He agrees with Peter and says that you need to trust one another, and be able to look at your partners in the eye. Rather than one-off projects, co-operation is about recurring trust.
“Working this close to each other really brings everything to a head. On the one hand, we owe loyalty to them and they owe loyalty to us as suppliers. On the other, there’s loyalty to the company’s own short-term business challenges. We need to manage the business in the here and now, of course, but this should never be at the expense of our performance over the long-term.”
Peter acknowledges that there are risks associated with granting consultants this much access to the organisation. “But it’s easy to justify the decision when I look back at how the co-operation has worked to date, and the results we have seen. I’ve never seen the slightest indication that they would use our information in ways that might be questionable.”
Quality assurance of more than e-health
The co-operation between Nordic Medtest has strengthened LearningWell developers’ testing skills. Tord says they are now looking at future testing, and how they can simplify it – as early as the software development stage. This has in turn opened up opportunities for a broader focus on quality assurance of IT-related systems.
“In recent years, we’ve become highly adept at opening up software, analysing it and presenting proposals for improvements. We now see this with requests from all types of segments outside healthcare: everything from confirming a delivered piece of software matches original specifications, to supporting a company purchase we guarantee software quality.”
One of the projects of which Tord and Peter are especially proud is that it is now possible to send electronic referrals between local authorities for the first time. They also mention the “Mina Intyg” service – a national service for e-health certification – that all local and regional authorities are now connected to. So in terms of societal benefits, the municipalities have already seen the results of the co-operation.
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Katarina Brunsson, CEO West
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