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Digital push could save welfare millions: report

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Digital push could save welfare millions: report
Residents of an elderly co-op in Stockholm celebrate St. Lucia. File: Ann Törnkvist
10:02 CET+01:00
A string of digital reforms could help Sweden cut the bulging costs of elderly care, as baby boomers retire and life expectancy continues to climb, a new report found. But not without broadband upgrades.

With the baby boomers about to retire in swathes, the costs for elderly and health care in Sweden will soar in coming years. But a new report, commissioned by broadband lobby organisation Svenska stadsnätsföreningen - SSNF, has argued that faster internet and moving several key welfare services online could save Sweden millions of kronor.

"In order to safeguard our welfare system, we have to develop and introduce new working methods with digital solutions," SSNF CEO Mikael Ek said in a statement on Friday.

The private research institute Acreo took on the challenge to crunch numbers, using the municipality of Västerås in eastern Sweden as a guinea pig for a product dubbed e-Homecare (e-hemtjänst). It then looked at what kind of savings a significant IT push within the in-home care and care-home services could bring.

Applying the results from the Västerås dummy on national level, Acreo found that Sweden could save an estimated 53 billion kronor ($8.2 million) from now until 2020.

For example, care providers would swap to telephone conversations between health staff and patients, with the option of video and picture messaging. Care home residents would be offered an overnight security camera, rather than having a night warden patrol the corridors. The online package would thus cut transport costs, save time when healthcare staff talked to the patient via video rather than making old-fashioned home calls, and save on the cost of a warden.

The report found that the elderly care home residents in Västerås were generally receptive to the new digital additions, provided they were voluntary.

Even offering the new digital services to a tiny slice of all welfare users could save money, the reported underlined. For example, if ten percent of in-home-care recipients and care-home residents used the new package, a small municipality with a population of 8,000 would make a saving of 2-4 million kronor a year. A city of half a million could save up to 63 million.

If as many as 90 percent of recipients said yes to e-Homecare, however, the savings would swell to 34 million for the smaller town and 590 million for the city, the researchers argued.

The report authors were quick to point out, however, that their work was only based on one area in Sweden and the budget-saving predictions should not be used as a benchmark for any local politician ready to seize upon the digital reform idea.

"No municipality should make a business plan based on these figures, they only give an indication," Marco Forzati at Acreo told the TT news agency.

The entire reform would hinge, however, on upgraded broadband across Sweden. The researchers said 40 percent of Swedish households at present had such access, while that percentage dropped in rural areas and among house owners.

"Digitalization should be one of our top election issues," Ek added. "But many of our politicians have so far showed far too little interest in these decisive questions for the future of Sweden."  

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