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Group photo at the DIGIFEST 2023 conference with Donna Henderson from the Digital Health and Care Directorate, Scottish Government, in the middle.

Unraveling Scotland's Digital Health Ecosystem: A Journey from Elgin to Glasgow

In December, a delegation from the Centre for e-health and Sørlandet Hospital Trust (SSHF) went on a trip to Scotland where the goal was to understand Scotland's digital health scene better.

The team included Elin Thygesen, Ragni MacQueen Leifson, and Elisabeth Giil from the Centre for e-health, along with Steinar Omnes, Sondre Tharaldsen, and Harald Reiso from SSHF.

The journey aimed to gain knowledge, discover innovative ideas, and strengthen and build new connections in healthcare. The main focus was on exploring how Scotland is advancing in digital health, picking up insights from local projects, and starting conversations to bring valuable learnings back home for fostering future cooperation in healthcare.

To address tomorrow's healthcare challenges, we depend on collaborating across borders, sharing experiences, and exchanging solutions. The trip was an opportunity to build new relationships and strengthen existing collaborations says Sondre Tharaldsen, innovation consultant at SSHF, when asked why he wanted to join the study trip.

As part of the "Agder as a model region for e-health" project, funded by the Aust-Agder Development and Competence Fund (AAUKF), the Centre for e-health extended invitations to both the hospital and Grimstad municipality for the study trip to Scotland. 

"In Agder, our collaboration in e-health has been strong. Scotland serves as a reference region, sharing a four-star rating akin to ours. This collaborative journey, which began in 2013, has proven highly beneficial for municipalities, the hospital, and the Centre for e-health (UiA) in Agder. In this partnership with Scotland, we continually learn from each other, fostering a dynamic exchange of insights and experiences" shares Ragni MacQueen Leifson, project leader and administrative leader at the Centre for e-health. Regrettably, the municipality did not have the opportunity to join this time. We will continue to strengthen the connections and contribute to the ongoing collaborative efforts with Scotland through webinars, applications/projects, and study visits to and from Scotland.

Day 1 - The Moray Rural Centre of Excellence for Digital Health and Care Innovation

Touching down in Aberdeen and heading north to Elgin, the delegation's journey kicked off with a visit to the Alexander Graham Bell Centre for Digital Health at UHI Moray, where they met up with Karim Mahmoud and his team from Digital Health & Care Innovation Centre (DHI).

"We have heard a lot about DHI's 'Rural Centre of Excellence (RCE) in Digital Health and Care' in the Moray region, and we are very excited to finally be able to visit" says Elin Thygesen, academic leader at the Centre for e-health at UiA.

The RCE is a project aimed at advancing digital health and care services in the Moray region. It is led by DHI in collaboration with The Glasgow School of Art and the University of Strathclyde. The initiative focuses on research, innovation, and co-designed Living Labs in areas like health and wellbeing, mental health, and smart housing. Their goal is among other things to create a dynamic digital health cluster, support economic growth, and contribute to Scotland and the UK's Net Zero goals (read more about RCE).

Group photo at the Alexander Graham Bell Centre for Digital Health

The visit provided valuable insights into advancing digital health services in the Moray region. The group exchanged ideas on co-design approaches and the Quadruple Helix model, recognizing the common ground between their methodologies.

"If this were to be my only meeting in Scotland, the trip would have been worthwhile already" states Steinar Omnes, e-health Innovation manager at SSHF.

The guys from SSHF checking out some welfare technology products

Day 2 - Inverness campus: A hub for collaboration

The expedition continued to Inverness, where the delegation explored the Inverness campus - a campus in a high-quality location that inspires businesses, researchers, and academia to work collaboratively, with a particular focus on Life Sciences and Technology.

It is very interesting to see how they build cross-sectoral collaboration on the Inverness Campus, with the University playing a leading role in creating collaborative spaces for all parties involved says Steinar Omnes.

 

Walking across the Inverness campus

A guided tour led by Karen Thomson from Highlands and Islands Enterprise unveiled the vision for the area. The group encountered groundbreaking technologies, such as SCOTCAP, a Colon Capsule Endoscopy, and explored potential collaboration opportunities with health researchers from UHI Inverness at the Life Sciences Innovation Centre. The day resonated with possibilities for future collaboration and knowledge exchange.

Day 3 - An inspiring day in Glasgow

Splitting into groups, the guys from the hospital went to visit the clinical research facilities at The Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, while the rest visited Blantyre Life hub just outside of Glasgow.

Blantyre Life Hub: Transforming Lives Independently

Blantyre Life is an award-winning care campus that emphasizes enabling more people to live as independently as possible within their own homes. We got a guided tour of their fantastic facilities and information on how they work.

 

The heartwarming touch of the visit was the Christmas carols performed by local school children, bringing joy to both residents and staff. A special highlight was the opportunity to step inside a resident's house, where we had the pleasure of meeting the delightful Ann Burns. Ann shared with us the significant improvements in her life since moving in, emphasizing the positive impact on her social connections and newfound independence within her home. For a more in-depth exploration of our visit, Ann's story, and the remarkable work happening at Blantyre LIFE, you can read the newsletter titled "From darkness to light’: The incredible difference being made behind closed doors at Blantyre LIFE" curated by NHS Lanarkshire.

"I think we can learn a lot from how they've developed the Blantyre Life Hub, where they incorporate many functions in one place—serving as both a fitness center for post-hospitalization recovery, social housing, a café, and a showcase for technology" says Elin Thygesen, and further states that she looks forward to continuing and building our links with Blantyre and exchanging information to build on innovative approaches to care in both countries. 

Queen Elizabeth University Hospital – exploring collaborative horizons

Sondre Tharaldsen and Harald Reiso at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital. Photo credit: Steinar Omnes, SSHF

Sondre, Steinar, and Harald were all excited about their visit to the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, where they met up with Ruth McLaughlin, College Head of Innovation, Katriona Brooksbank, Senior Clinical Research Manager, and Stewart Rodney and Sean Duncan, two clinical Innovation fellows from the University of Glasgow. During their meeting, they explored potential areas for collaboration and engaged in discussions to unearth shared opportunities.

"The Scottish health authorities have made significant progress in digital patient pathways, developing some solutions internally. We are currently working on establishing an environment for internal development at SSHF, where I believe it would be relevant to look to the Scottish model" says Sondre Tharaldsen. He also finds that "Glasgow University is addressing some of the same challenges related to AI and radiology as we are in Southern Norway. Collaboration in this area would be highly beneficial. The university is also leading a national drone initiative that I will be monitoring closely".
Steinar Omnes supports what Sondre says; "In meetings with DHI and the hospital in Glasgow, we were introduced to new solutions that we consider highly relevant to present to our organization. At the same time, we sensed a similar interest from the Scots in exchanging experiences with Norway and potentially establishing good collaborative projects in the future.”

Donna Henderson interviewed the group at DHI, asking, among other things, what they have gotten out of the trip to Scotland so far.

The day concluded with the group visiting the DHI offices, where insights into projects and innovation strategies left a lasting impression. 

"The establishment of DHI and the way they communicated their activities to the public, as well as their working approach, is something I hope we can use as an example to follow at home" says Steinar Omnes, inspired after the DHI visit.

Day 4 - Digital Health & Care Fest 2023

The study trip concluded with a visit to DIGIFEST, a Scottish Digital Health and Care Ecosystem learning event. Elin Thygesen participated in an international panel, discussing trends in digital health and care. The panel included members from Sweden, Ireland, and Dubai, offering a global perspective on successfully upscaled projects.

Elin speaking at #DIGIFEST23

Summing up - Learning and Collaborating Across Borders

The study trip emphasized the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration and international knowledge exchange. Insights from DHI, innovative campuses, and collaborative healthcare facilities showcased Scotland's forward-thinking approach. The group expressed appreciation for the user-centered development focus and the inspiring methodologies employed by their Scottish counterparts.
In the words of Elin Thygesen;
There are many things that inspired me on this trip, but one is how they facilitate innovation, both through the Living Lab activities in Elgin and the construction of the Highlands and Islands Enterprise Campus, especially the 'Life Innovation Centre' outside Inverness.

In conclusion, the study trip provided a platform for building new relationships, strengthening existing collaborations, and gaining valuable insights into Scotland's advancements in digital health and innovation. The group looks forward to implementing lessons learned and continuing the exchange of information to further enhance healthcare practices in both countries.

In closing, we extend our heartfelt gratitude to Donna Henderson, the architect behind the meticulously crafted program. Her dedication and meticulous planning ensured a seamless journey for our group, from Elgin to Glasgow. Donna's presence throughout the expedition added a personal touch, and her efforts were instrumental in making the group exploration of Scotland's healthcare and innovation landscape both enriching and memorable.