Health and Healthcare Systems

Could the IKEA approach help assemble truly patient-centric healthcare?

The continous collection of real-world evidence would be a game-changer for medical knowledge and healthcare.

The continous collection of real-world evidence would be a game-changer for medical knowledge and healthcare. Image: CDC/Unsplash

Meni Styliadou
Vice-President; Global Program Leader, Health Data Partnerships, Takeda Pharmaceuticals International AG
Tanja Stamm
Professor, Institute for Outcomes Research, Center for Medical Data Science, Medical University of Vienna & Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Arthritis and Rehabilitation
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This article is part of: Centre for Health and Healthcare

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  • Healthcare relies on clinical data sourced in part from patients.
  • Technology reporting patient outcomes in a standardized way would bolster global healthcare and policy-making.
  • IKEA's simple, participatory approach could provide a model for healthcare.

Healthcare and IKEA are both household words, but not ones that you usually hear in the same sentence. Yet as we consider the future of healthcare systems, which all face mounting economic costs but also tremendous opportunities in deploying digital technologies, we think the Swedish furniture giant may provide useful food for thought.

Effective and safe healthcare depends on data. Policy-makers and healthcare professionals depend on actual evidence of the impact of lifestyles and treatments, which can vary enormously depending on the disease and the individual in question. That’s why there has been much hope in recent years about expanding the use of real-world evidence (RWE) and patient-reported outcomes (PROs) to gain additional information on the potential benefits and risks of drugs and medical products.

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Let us take you into a healthcare nirvana. Imagine a world in which patient outcomes would be continuously reported in a standardized way. Not only would patients be able to track their own health journeys – how their condition or well-being has evolved over the past years and with different treatments and lifestyle changes – but the clinical benefits would be tremendous.

Doctors could, with a glance at their patient’s dashboard, know exactly how their patients are doing and are reacting to treatments. Researchers would – in addition to evidence from expensive clinical trials – be able to feast on rich data from actual real-world outcomes. This would open up vast vistas for the identification of correlations between diseases, life factors and treatments, and provide a rich empirical basis for further medical innovation.

This data would also be extremely useful in enabling genuinely data-driven public policy. Decision-makers at all levels, from municipalities to the European institutions, would be able to identify pain points and the most effective solutions for how to best deliver healthcare. In short, the collection of RWE in this way would be a game-changer for medical knowledge, care and human health.


IKEA inspired healthcare approach

But how realistic is this scenario? Sceptics will say that large-scale reporting of patient outcomes is likely to be expensive and that patients, who typically lack expertise and may not be health- or data-literate, will have difficulties providing meaningful data.

This is where an IKEA-inspired approach may yield solutions. What are the salient features of the IKEA model that led it to be such a successful company of international appeal? We would like to highlight three:

  • The customer actively participates in creating the final product.
  • Instructions are as simple as possible and largely visual.
  • Standardization allows state-of-the-art, desirable and low-cost products.

These features are all relevant to what we are striving towards at the Health Outcomes Observatory (H2O). Free to use for patients, user-friendly and seamlessly connected co-developed applications will enable patients to actively participate in their own healthcare in the simplest way possible.

Patients will be able to easily track their health in any number of dimensions, from fatigue and health incidents to reaction to treatment and overall well-being. There is immediate value for patients in better documenting their health trajectory and sharing this information with their doctor to facilitate evidence-based decision-making. Patient-reported data together with clinical information and data from sensors in smartphones and other devices will build the basis for better prediction models and truly targeted personalized care in the future.

In addition to benefits for themselves, patients will also have the opportunity to contribute to our healthcare knowledge as a whole: Their pseudonymized data will be ready, if the patient accepts, to be shared with researchers in secure environments to advance our understanding of life science and health policy,

This scenario is not fantastical by any means. Admittedly, there are costs in the initial stages as we set up the necessary data infrastructure, develop apps and mobilize stakeholders. But once these are in place, patients themselves can gather and report their own data. Many people already track their health-related metrics: how many steps they’ve taken, their heart rate during exercise, their sleeping patterns and so on. It’s only a matter of capitalizing on these digital trends.


What is the World Economic Forum doing to improve healthcare systems?

So let’s take a page out of the IKEA playbook. By designing easy-to-use, affordable and participatory apps, we can enable patients to not merely be passive subjects of medical care, but genuine participants in our common quest for medical knowledge and well-being.


Learn more about what the World Economic Forum is doing to accelerate the transition to value-based healthcare at our Global Coalition for Value in Healthcare website.

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