Securing a healthy life cycle of digital healthcare 

The use of digital healthcare devices is booming. This may be good news for patients, but less encouraging to the environment and the consumption of rare raw materials. New CBS research plans to help deal with this challenge.


Photo:/Jakob Boserup

Who wants to stay long in hospital? The majority would most likely prefer to go home and have our health monitored by a smart device and only return to the doctor in case an alarm is triggered. 

A smart wearable sensor is an example of the digital healthcare devices expected to become much more prevalent in near future. Researchers and industry partners behind a new European research project, DiCE, expect an exponentially increase in the use of these devices in the next decade. 

83 million units of medical wearables were available on the European market in 2020, and the expected annual global growth rate could be as much as 20 percent by 2027.

This may be good for patients but challenging for the environment. Not least as wearable sensors are single use, so what will happen to them once they have been discarded? Most likely, according to the project description, the majority will end up in a landfill or an incinerator, which means that the plastic, metal, and rare raw materials used to produce them will be lost permanently.

A project with potential impact 

To build a more sustainable future, twenty partners from the manufacturing industry, research institutions, and the recycling sectors have come together in the project, ‘Digital Health in the Circular Economy (DiCE)’, which over the next four years will strive to find ways to re-use, refurbish and recycle different sorts of digital health devices.

For this project, CBS is represented by Christiane Lehrer and Attila Márton from the Department of Digitalization as well as Andreas Wieland from the Department of Operations Management.

“It is a project that can really have a positive impact in the world – for the benefit of patients, the healthcare sector, and the environment. To me personally, it feels great to contribute academic knowledge and have it applied in the industry and society,” says Christiane Lehrer.

Lehrer will explore how consumers can get in the loop of recycling the devices. How they can become motivated to return the wearable sensors and other smart technology devices once they do not need them anymore.

Smart people solving wicked problems 

Attila Márton will develop system models of the recycling process of health care devices to investigate to which degree various solutions are sustainable or not.

“This is a great project, because so many smart people come together to solve wicked problems. Working with the health care sector there are no quick solutions because you cannot recycle everything the same way as with other products. There are, for example, possible biohazards, data protection issues, and the fact that the ‘consumer’ is not well also constitutes a challenge. So you may solve one problem but end up creating a new one. We strive to get to the root of them all,” says Márton.

Andreas Wieland is already working on a literature review to uncover what is already known about the recycling of health care devices.

“Unfortunately, we do n’ot have much research on this specific issue. But maybe we can learn from research performed on digital wearables in the fitness industry. Here, we have research based on interviews with companies, health care professionals and consumers,” Andreas adds.

The total cost of the EU Horizon project is EUR 9.2 million, of which EUR 267,000 is allocated to the research carried out at CBS.

Read more about Digital Health in the Circular Economy (DICE) and follow the project on LinkedIn.

The page was last edited by: Sekretariat for Ledelse og Kommunikation // 08/16/2023