Design of user friendly health systems



A digital health platform has so many opportunities to actually bring health to people.


Why is digital health literacy becoming increasingly important?

Health literacy is two-sided. On one hand we talk about the health literacy of the public, of people. The other side is about the health literacy responsiveness of systems. So how do we design systems to be health literacy friendly? And when we talk about digital health literacy, we are challenged. Because we see that there are so many barriers for people to find information on social media, on websites and so forth. Many public websites are not designed very user friendly. And it means that people can get lost. It’s important that we recognize that healthcare systems have a say in how we design systems and the way we can help people to gain digital health literacy.


How can health literacy be promoted?

Healthcare systems play an important role in increasing health literacy of people. It’s important to create a leadership, ownership, management buy-in to implement health literacy as a strategic approach in organisations. Healthcare systems are also important in terms of setting guidelines and standards for use of data, for example. So it’s important to create a good framework for privacy and data security.


How can we create a health literate future?

I believe the future is health literate. I believe we all have a responsibility to design healthcare systems that are conducive and empower people to take care of their health and well-being. It’s a responsibility of all of us, whether you work in the healthcare sector or beyond the healthcare sector. So it means for the healthcare staff, but also those outside, so meaning teachers, coaches, decision makers, policy makers, journalists: We all have a responsibility and we can all make that difference of making the future health literate.


Dr. Kristine Sørensen, President of the International Health Literacy Association, advocates for more people to gain better digital health literacy. To achieve this, she believes that health systems have a responsibility to become more user-friendly. In this video, the health literacy expert outlines the framework for health systems that aim to empower people to take responsibility for their health and well-being.

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    Digital health – The future of health systems



    Digital health is a key enabler of efficient, high-performing health systems. So what a national health platform does is set the rules of the game.

    Can digital health enhance national health systems and what role can digital ecosystems play?

    WHO is extremely excited about digital health as a catalyst to strengthen health systems. Many health systems struggle with limited resources to achieve large ambitions. And without tools like digital health to optimize how those limited resources are allocated, how services are delivered on time to those who need it the most, the resources are misspent. And so digital health is a key enabler of efficient, high-performing health systems.

    How should national health systems shape digital transformation?

    So it’s absolutely critical that digital transformation not happen in a chaotic manner. Over the last two decades, we’ve seen billions of dollars be spent in a discordant way, not achieving the levels of impact and scale that we’ve hoped for. So national health systems and governments need to have a clear vision of where they want the countries to go, as well as an architected plan or roadmap for how that transformation occurs. Once that architectural blueprint is in place, then there is scope for many actors to help advance the goals of that blueprint.

    How important are quality, truth and trust in designing digital health care landscapes?

    Those are three very important words, quality, truth and trust. Quality means making sure that the content and the standards on which these systems are built are the gold standards, and that’s the role of organizations like the World Health Organization. Truth and trust are things that have been eroded significantly over the past decade with the advent of misinformation and disinformation, fake news, et cetera. And so it’s absolutely critical that we leverage tools like digital health to make sure people have access to truthful, reliable information on which to base the health care decisions they are making.

    How can national health systems prevent data monopolies and loss of control?

    The national health systems and governments have a strong responsibility to ensure that the sovereignty and privacy of individual data is always protected. The importance of data ownership by individuals and the decisions as to how that data is used must always reside with the individual from whom that data comes. However, in large systems, it’s important that government sets the rules of engagement and the parameters or boundaries within which tech sector and other industry and private sector partners can play so that they support the mission of the public health system.

    What role could a national health platform play in the personalized and human-centered health care of the future?

    So what a national health platform does is set the rules of the game. It sets the boundaries and the guardrails within which all of the different actors can play together. By setting the vision, by setting the architecture, by selecting the standards, what we do is we enable all of these different solutions and innovations to thrive, not as separate innovations, but together as an interconnected system, ultimately keeping the patient or the individual at the center of all of the different pieces.



    Dr. Alain Labrique is Director of the Department of Digital Health and Innovation at the World Health Organization. He is the founding director of the Global mHealth Initiative at Johns Hopkins University and editor-in-chief of the Oxford Open Digital Health Journal. An infectious disease epidemiologist and population scientist, he was a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health until September 2022. Labrique was the lead author of the 2012 Bellagio Declaration on mHealth Evidence and has authored more than 150 publications in top-tier journals, as well as numerous book chapters and technical reports on digital health.

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      Trusted Health Ecosystems: Our project approach

      Dr. Sebastian Schmidt-Kaehler
      Dr. Inga Münch

      The digital age is impacting our lives in ways we’ve never experienced before, and it’s doing so at an accelerating pace. This rapid change, coupled with the disruptive effects it brings, places considerable demands on society in terms of adaptability. Digital platforms are at the forefront of this change, as they supply the essential infrastructure and services driving this transformation.

      Through their platforms, digital ecosystems have fundamentally altered entire sectors of the economy. They have changed how people interact and communicate with each other, how goods and services are marketed, and how educational and informational resources are accessed. Platforms are not only impacting the world of work, they have disrupted the media landscape and upended the power dynamics of the mobility industry. So why should healthcare be any different?

      New power dynamics

      Global tech companies are venturing into the healthcare sector, offering immense potential for a modern, patient-centered and continually evolving healthcare system. While network effects and economies of scale present impressive growth opportunities, they also pose risks to the principle of solidarity that finances our healthcare system. One thing is certain: Digital platforms will profoundly reshape the power dynamics within healthcare systems. It is our responsibility to harness and direct their innovative and guiding influence for the greater good (see video: Managing the risks of platform economy).

      Platform strategies for national healthcare systems

      The time has come for public and civil society actors to create their own platforms and take the lead in shaping the foundational digital infrastructure, defining value-based guidelines for the future of digital healthcare. National healthcare systems need to formulate their own platform strategies to carve out a position for themselves in the emerging healthcare market. With our “Trusted Health Ecosystems” project, we are paving the way forward to achieve this and developing a concrete vision of a future national healthcare platform. We thus aim to illustrate the potential benefits that can arise from collaborative efforts involving government, civil society and the private sector (see Conceptual considerations: an overview).

      Promoting health literacy

      The focus of our product concept is to provide patients personalized information and services. By doing this, we confront the enduring problem of health literacy, with more than half of the German population indicating significant struggles in accessing, understanding, appraising and applying health-related information (see Health literacy: challenges of the future). Without health literacy, patients find it difficult to make informed decisions about their health and actively participate in their treatment process. By consolidating and intelligently disseminating curated information, the platform could help streamline how information is handled and reshape the information landscape within the healthcare sector.


      The Bertelsmann Stiftung cannot and will not implement and operate this platform itself, because merely providing a digital infrastructure would fall far short of the mark. To cultivate a digital ecosystem that benefits all participants, it requires more than a legal foundation; but also the insight and collective will of all relevant actors in the healthcare system. Therefore, as a foundation, we see our role to inspire those who can collaboratively bring this vision to fruition.

      International context

      Digital ecosystems have networked the world more tightly than ever before. While these platforms adapt to national circumstances, they often extend beyond borders. This presents challenges that can no longer be effectively tackled solely at the national level. International collaboration and coordination are thus imperative if we are to mitigate risks and seize the opportunities inherent in this transformation. We have therefore positioned our vision of a national healthcare platform within an international framework from the outset, engaging with international organizations in Europe and beyond. This applies in particular to the quality, safety and interoperability standards associated with such a platform (see InfoQ: Making quality visible).

      Real-time project results

      Since the advent of AI-powered language models, we have seen just how rapidly digital transformation is reshaping our lives. Given the exponential pace at which things are changing, we have we’ve chosen to release our project findings as they develop – in “real time” – rather than holding off until the project has concluded. This concept is a living document and as we move forward, this concept will undergo continual refinement through contributions and the addition of new sections, all aimed at further shaping the vision of the national healthcare platform.


      Dr. Sebastian Schmidt-Kaehler serves as the co-director of the Healthcare Program at the Bertelsmann Stiftung. Before this, he held the position of managing partner at Patientenprojekte GmbH, a consultancy focused on organizational management with a specialization in patient communication. From 2011 to 2015, he assumed the role of national director at Germany’s Unabhängige Patientenberatung (UPD). He is also currently a member of the expert committee for the National Action Plan Health Literacy in Germany.

      Dr. Inga Münch is a health researcher and co-lead of the “Trusted Health Ecosystems” project at the Bertelsmann Stiftung.  Most recently, she has been involved in various projects that merge patient-centered care with digital health solutions. Her PhD thesis centered around the concept of health-literate organizations. Through her work on a variety of scientific projects, Dr. Münch has conducted research in areas encompassing health education, patient-oriented care and health systems.


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      To contact our project team, please use our form. We look forward to your message and will get back to you as soon as possible.