March 13, 2024

Interpharma calls for National Legal Framework for Health Data Use in Switzerland

Switzerland's healthcare system is often ranked among the best in the world and is often held up as a model for other countries to follow.

The reasons are evident:

  • Switzerland has an extensive network of doctors
  • Clean, well-equipped hospitals and clinics
  • Waiting lists for treatment are shorter than in other countries
  • Patients have the freedom to choose their own doctor and usually have unlimited access to specialists
  • Accidents and emergency rooms are rarely overwhelmed

This is why the general population holds Switzerland's healthcare system in high regard: the vast majority of residents over 18 are satisfied with the quality of healthcare received, as shown by the latest survey conducted in eleven countries by the Commonwealth Fund Foundation. In Switzerland, 91 per cent of respondents rated their health as good, very good or excellent.

Despite being hailed as one of the best healthcare systems in the world, Interpharma—the association of the research-based pharmaceutical industry—is calling for a national legal framework to be put in place to regulate how health data generated in Switzerland can be used and how different players can gain access to this data. This move comes as the result of increasing concern over the amount of data collected by pharmaceutical companies and how it is used.

The current state of digitization in Swiss healthcare.

Currently, no single law governs the collection and use of health data in Switzerland. Instead, a patchwork of different laws and regulations apply, depending on the type of data being collected and the purpose for which it is being used. This lack of clarity makes it difficult for pharmaceutical companies to know what they can and cannot do with the data they collect. This patchwork of laws is hindering Switzerland's ability to make greater use of its healthcare data.

For Switzerland to maintain its place as a leading country in healthcare, it is essential to have a strong healthcare data ecosystem. A robust healthcare data ecosystem requires three things:

  1. High-quality data.
  2. The ability to share that data.
  3. The ability to use that data to improve patient care.

Switzerland falls short on the third and final point. The legal opinion commissioned by Interpharma concludes that a national legal framework is necessary for Switzerland to improve its healthcare data ecosystem. Such a framework would regulate how and for what health data generated in Switzerland can be used and how different players can access the data. It would also create transparency around how different stakeholders can use health data. Now it is up to the federal government to act: If Switzerland wants to maintain its international reputation, the federal government must finally act.

The lack of digitization in the Swiss healthcare system.

The lack of digitization in the healthcare sector became glaringly apparent during the Covid-19 pandemic. As with many countries, the Swiss healthcare system was unprepared for a pandemic of this magnitude and, as a result, was quickly overwhelmed. One of the main reasons for this was the lack of digitization in the healthcare sector. If health data had been collected and used effectively, the Swiss healthcare system would have been better prepared to handle the influx of patients during the pandemic.

Health data is generated daily in the public healthcare system and greatly benefits endeavours to improve patient care, develop new treatments and drugs, and support research initiatives. Health data is the key to medical progress and sustainable healthcare systems. However, this potential for welfare in Switzerland remains largely untapped.

Interpharma has developed a roadmap for a coherent digitalization strategy in healthcare to tap into this potential. This roadmap includes proposals for changes to existing laws and regulations and recommendations for infrastructure and IT systems improvements. By implementing this roadmap, Switzerland can better use its health data and improve its preparedness for future pandemics.

Overcoming the cantonal patchwork.

Interpharma calls for Switzerland to legally regulate the use and promotion of health data generated in Switzerland based on a comprehensive strategy and shared vision for a digitalized health data ecosystem. To overcome the current obstacles, we need a clear and coordinated approach at the national level that considers the interests of all those involved.  

Only then can we make full use of the opportunities digitalization offers for patients, physicians and other healthcare professionals, researchers and companies in Switzerland.

As Dr. Benjamin Dodsworth, CSO and Co-Founder of PIPRA AG , explains: “There is enormous trapped value in inaccessible health data. An appropriate change in regulation has the power to boost innovation “made in Switzerland”. And most importantly, let’s not forget that health data has the power to save lives.”

The patient must be at the center of any digital health solution. Digital solutions must make it easier for patients to access their own health data, understand it and use it proactively to improve their own health or that of their loved ones. Physicians and other healthcare professionals should be supported in their daily work through targeted access to relevant medical knowledge and through better coordination between care providers. Researchers need access to high-quality, anonymized health data to generate new findings that will benefit patients in Switzerland in the future. The industry should develop digital solutions that foster competition on an equal footing, encourage innovation and put patients first.

The future of Swiss healthcare.

Switzerland mustn't fall further behind in the digitalization of healthcare but quickly takes a significant step forward.

Achieving this ambitious goal will require all parties involved – patients, healthcare professionals, researchers and companies – to join forces. Only by working together will we be able to develop appropriate legal regulations at the national level and create transparency regarding how personal data is used. This is essential if we are to gain the trust of patients and consumers and ensure that Switzerland remains an attractive location for developing innovative digital health solutions.