Zwei Mannen im CSS Health Lap

CSS Health Lab

The CSS Health Lab is conducting research into ‘digital pills’. Whereas traditional pills start a chemical process in the body – generally causing the patient to feel better afterwards – digital pills focus on people’s behaviour: the aim is to empower patients so that they can better (self-)manage their condition on a day-to-day basis and recognise dangers to their health at an earlier stage.

Collaboration with ETH Zurich and University of St. Gallen

The CSS Health Lab is a partnership between CSS, ETH Zurich and the University of St. Gallen. It was founded in 2015 at the Center for Digital Health Interventions under Prof. Elgar Fleisch, who holds a chair at both the Department of Management, Technology and Economics of ETH Zurich and the Institute of Technology Management at the University of St. Gallen. Scientific Director Dr Tobias Kowatsch leads a team of PhD candidates and Masters and Bachelor degree students from various fields, including psychology and computer science, who conduct research into digital health interventions – working together with patients, service providers and patient organisations.

From chatbots to educational videos

Digital interventions can have a positive influence on people’s behaviour – helping them to stay healthy, get well or better cope with their condition. Those suffering from asthma, diabetes and other chronic diseases can significantly enhance their quality of life by adopting 'healthy' behaviour. 

The Center for Digital Health Interventions is currently researching the following digital therapies:

Digital physio coach

How can a digital physio coach help ensure treatment is successful and the patient feels better? There are two fundamental problems with physiotherapy in its current form: people either do not do their prescribed exercises often enough, or they do them incorrectly. That can have a negative impact on their health, or at least delay the healing process. Mixed reality technology is being used to solve this problem, as it allows patients to have a virtual physio coach right with them in their living rooms. The coach is intended not only to motivate patients, but also to give them real-time feedback about whether or not they are doing their exercises correctly. The aim is to develop a digital physio coach to provide patients with individual support for their therapy, independent of place or time.


How does the food pyramid work? What belongs on a healthy plate? The aim of the digital coach that forms part of the MySwissFoodPyramid app (available in the App Store and from Google Play) is to help adults in Switzerland make informed choices about healthy nutrition and a balanced diet and encourage them to lead a healthier lifestyle. The user’s food intake is monitored and compared to the Swiss food pyramid's dietary guidelines.

Asthma: early warning signs of an attack

How bad was my asthma last night? Should I do something about it– like see a doctor today? Asthma is one of the most common chronic diseases in Switzerland. Coughing is an indication of how well a person’s asthma is under control. In future, the app will count how often the user coughs throughout the night and make a recommendation if necessary. This should help asthmatics regain control of their lives. As the app is designed to act as an early warning system, it helps save costs.

Asthma explained: educational videos for children

What do children who have just been diagnosed with asthma need to know? The Swiss Lung League has joined forces with the CSS Health Lab and other partners to produce 11 short video clips that teach children how to cope more effectively with their condition. The videos are aimed at 10- to 13-year-olds with asthma, as well as their brothers and sisters, parents and other caregivers. The project team received an award for the videos at the WorldMediaFestival 2018 in Hamburg.

Health coach for obese children – PathMate2

What can be done to improve the health of overweight children? With the PathMate2 app, chatbots Anna and Lukas motivate youngsters each day to get more exercise, for instance, thus improving their quality of life. The app is already being used successfully at the Children’s Hospital in St. Gallen. On average, each child interacts with the chatbot eight times a day.

SELMA – Your digital pain management coach

How can a chatbot help users to cope more effectively with chronic pain in their everyday lives? SELMA is one of the first health apps in Switzerland to support improved pain management. SELMA offers brand new ways of supporting and caring for individuals with persistent or cyclical pain from a variety of causes.

CSS Mobile Diabetes Companion

What is the best way to manage my diabetes? Treating diabetes is complex, and there are many things sufferers must look out for in their day-to-day lives. The many sensors found in smartphones can help patients manage the disease, for instance, by measuring their physical activity, keeping an electronic food diary, feeding in glucose data from wireless monitoring systems, reminding patients to take their medicine or providing information on specific aspects of their condition. The aim is to enhance their quality of life.

PEACH – Your personality coach

How can a chatbot help people change aspects of their personality so that they handle stress better or even become more ‘conscientious’? In this project, the Center for Digital Health Interventions has teamed up with psychologists from the University of Zurich to develop an app intended to help people change their personality in a more positive direction.

myStep / Ally

How can rewards incentivise CSS clients to get more exercise? myStep and its electronic activity tracker is the answer: everyone who takes at least 7,500 steps a day is rewarded with a credit of CHF 0.20 – or CHF 0.40 if they take 10,000 steps or more. MyStep is the best-known product to have emerged from this collaboration with the Health Lab.

A new feature in the next generation of myStep is called ‘Ally’ – the Assistant to Lift your Level of Activity. Ally is a chatbot that sets users their very own daily step target and shares tips and tricks on how to achieve that goal. Through Ally, the Health Lab aims to measure whether individuals can reach their step target more easily if they are given daily digital coaching.