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[Herald Interview] Secret behind Danish COVID-19 response: Health tech solutions

Hans Erik Henriksen, CEO of Healthcare Denmark (Embassy of Denmark in Seoul)
Hans Erik Henriksen, CEO of Healthcare Denmark (Embassy of Denmark in Seoul)

A survey in August showed that people in Denmark were happier than people from any other advanced economy about their government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis. They were more satisfied than South Koreans.

Some 95 percent of Danes believed their government was doing a good job of handling the pandemic, while 86 percent of Koreans felt the same way about their government, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center.

Though Denmark is also grappling with a resurgence of COVID-19 in Europe, it was one of the first countries on the continent to flatten the curve, emerge from lockdown and reopen its schools after the first wave of the coronavirus in spring.

At the core of Denmark’s COVID-19 response are innovative health tech solutions that help to increase the country’s health care capacity with limited resources, said Hans Erik Henriksen, CEO of Healthcare Denmark, in an email interview with The Korea Herald.

“COVID-19 and the serious situation of this pandemic introduced an immediate sense of urgency, where our healthcare authorities and our industry together reacted to address the crisis,” said Henriksen, who also delivered a presentation titled “COVID-19 and health tech: The Nordic experience” at Nordic Talks on Oct. 23 in Seoul.

That sense of urgency led the health authorities to make use of teleconsultations, self-driving disinfection robots, real-time tracking systems for hospitals and testing centers, and artificial intelligence-based methods of assessing infection risks for patients. All these digital solutions helped speed up COVID-19 testing and prevented hospitals from becoming overwhelmed, he said.

The real-time tracking system for hospitals, for example, offers an overview of where coronavirus patients are hospitalized, how many beds are available in hospital wards and intensive care units, and how much protective equipment is available.

“Today, we can on a national level -- hour by hour -- follow the situation in terms of newly infected patients and the total number of infected patient in each region of our country,” said Henriksen, whose organization is a public-private partnership that promotes Danish health care solutions and competencies abroad.

There was little backlash about going digital from the Danish people, including senior citizens less familiar with digital interactions, according to him.

“Denmark has already implemented a high level of digital health -- all Danish citizens have access to their full Electronic Health Records through a secure e-health portal, for example,” he said. “This comprehensive use of digital health relies on a high degree of confidence and trust among our citizens in sharing their electronic data and information with our healthcare authorities.”

“When we implemented more, new digital solutions to help us control the outbreak, the reaction from our citizens has actually been positive,” he said.

He also pointed out that the COVID-19 crisis opens a window of opportunity, making patients more familiar with the digital transition in the health care sector and showing the potential of public-private partnerships.

“It will be very valuable for ongoing healthcare transformation, if we can preserve and build on this new culture in the future,” he said.

By Ock Hyun-ju (laeticia.ock@heraldcorp.com)
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