Designing a health care system for everyone

For people who travel to a new country to work or study, getting to know a new health system can be a challenge. Erik Grönvall studies how technology might help to make public services more accessible for new and old citizens alike.

ResearchDigital Design DepartmenthealthErik Grönvall

What is your current research about?

I’m working on a feasibility study within multicultural health care. Together with colleagues in Belgium and at ITU, I’m looking into whether it is possible to design health systems with better consideration for all the different types of people that use them. There are major differences in how health systems are organized in different countries. Who do you contact when you are sick, for example? Do you go straight to the hospital, or do you first see your family doctor who then refers you onwards in the system, like we do in Denmark. It is important to highlight touch points into the system and perhaps develop them so that they become easier to understand, for instance for people coming to Denmark to work from other EU countries.

The research is inspired by service design and is mostly based on people's experiences. Our hypothesis is that growing up with a particular health system affects your experience of a new system and how you navigate in it. The Danish health system has already done a lot in terms of providing interpreters, but the question is whether only language plays a role, or if technology can also help to increase the understanding of the health system.

What have you discovered so far?

We have interviewed new citizens in Denmark about their experience of the health system. A woman we talked to received a letter calling her in for a treatment, which she did not understand. So she asked her colleagues what the letter was about. That went just fine, but at the expense of her privacy. The letter is an example of a communication technology that could be renewed in order to make the health system more accessible, not just for people from other countries, but for everyone.

We also have indications that there is a group that go to the doctor in their home countries when they are visiting anyway. They might feel a different relationship to the doctor or experience a different type of care there. It might just be about feeling comfortable. But it can be a challenge for both the system and for the citizen if people do not use the health system in the country they live and work in. For instance, if you go to the doctor in two different countries whose health record systems are not interconnected, you risk that doctors prescribe incompatible drugs. Mobility between countries and cultures creates amazing opportunities, but also interesting challenges within design and technology.

What do you find most exciting about your field?

Major changes are happening in the services offered by the public systems, some of which are driven by technology. These developments make it interesting to look at how we can design big comprehensive services like health care systems that are even better and accessible to more people.

Further information

Erik Grönvall, Associate Professor, email

Vibeke Arildsen, Press Officer, phone 2555 0447, email