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Mapping DSI: Health and care

10th October 2018

Introducing our overview of DSI in the field of health and care, led by WeMake.

The health and care sector has been, and continues to be, strongly influenced by digital transformation driven by cutting-edge technologies. At one end of the scale is a thriving, well-funded landscape of medtech, biotech and precision medicine. At the other end, we have seen the emergence of a diversity of digital social innovation (DSI) initiatives developed by a broad range of actors, including maker communities, startup companies, non-profit organisations and experimental research projects.

DSI is being used to tackle a range of challenges, from support for people with disabilities and long-term health conditions to the optimisation of care systems in our ageing societies.

In DSI4EU’s health and care cluster analysis, led by WeMake, we focus on people-centred, bottom-up digital technologies which are being used to tackle two specific challenges:

  • the lack of customisable and low-cost solutions for improving the quality of life of people with illnesses and long-term health conditions
  • the need to define procedures and technologies of data exchange and the digitisation of patient data; and the lack of resources dedicated to developing treatments for rare diseases.

We find that a range of technologies are being used to tackle these challenges:

  • 3D-printing and digital fabrication, which allow for more tailored solutions and better patient involvement, for example through bespoke mobility devices or prostheses);
  • virtual reality, which shows great promise for rehabilitation and, in particular, for offering support to children; and
  • web- and app-based platforms, which facilitate crowdsourcing of information (such as of how accessible public spaces are), citizen science (such as analysis of research data), data collection (such as real-time monitoring of activity) and long-distance communication (such as peer support for people with rare diseases).

As a fab lab, WeMake’s expertise is in the field of 3D-printing and digital fabrication, which makes up the focus for the majority of this introductory report. It explores how open innovation, co-design, peer and open production and  patient-led innovation are being used to tackle some of the most pressing challenges within the health and care field.

WeMake’s analysis identifies significant opportunities in the field, including family and patient empowerment, tailored solutions, competitive advantage over existing models, products and services, and speedier responses to challenges. At the same time, numerous barriers remain, including around regulation and certification, integration into mainstream public provision, networking and collaboration, and communicating the benefits of new approaches.

Building upon these challenges, our emerging policy recommendations cover the need for support for collaboration, development of open standards, and new forms of regulation and certification. Over the coming months DSI4EU will be refining and advocating for these recommendations in collaboration with the DSI community and other stakeholders.

DSI4EU aims to support the growth and scale of digital social innovation (DSI), tech for good and civic tech in Europe through a programme of policy, research and practical support. This feature is part of a series of introductory texts exploring the landscape, challenges and opportunities for DSI in different social areas. Read the other features in the series.

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