“Another approach is needed for digitalisation of healthcare”

This is the conclusion of the University of Twente (Sustainable Healthcare Technology, TechMed Center and Faculty of BMS) in a study commissioned by the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport. According to UT, the research makes it clear that much needs to be done to implement technology in healthcare. Digital care involves more than the use of technology. It is primarily about a different way of working. “This requires vision, courage and direction,” says UT professor Lisette van Gemert-Pijnen.

Digital care is increasingly being used in healthcare. Among other things, to relieve a high workload and limit rising health care costs. Unfortunately, there is a lack of adequate digital infrastructure, organizational capacity and adequate funding for a real upscaling of digital healthcare applications. The Netherlands lags behind in this area compared to guide countries such as the Scandinavian countries and Estonia.

Recommendations for speeding up digital healthcare

UT conducted a literature and practical study of digitization in the health care system. In the report based on this, UT has published a large number of recommendations to accelerate this digitization. Some examples:

  • For example, the government must take on a proactive and organizing role. There is a need for a long-term policy aimed at a process of change and a different way of working. “For example, we need to organize the deployment of staff differently. In addition to doctors, professionals with a technical medical background or data analysts can also be appointed in the healthcare system, ”says Van Gemert-Pijnen.
  • Healthcare institutions no longer have to strive for direct cost savings only through digitization. There is too little pressure to implement digitalisation in healthcare institutions due to insufficient insight into how investments can be recovered. There is also little incentive in healthcare institutions to experiment with healthcare innovations. The government can encourage care institutions to experiment and speed up the funding of integrated care.

Interoperability has not been realized

The biggest stumbling block in accelerated digitization is that interoperability – systems can work together and exchange information – is still not achieved. The law that was supposed to speed this up – Wegiz – has been exposed not to run counter to the European proposal for a European Health Data Space. For example, connecting IT systems to electronic medical records involves many financial and organizational problems. There is no nationwide network of IT infrastructures. This means that each institution has a unique ICT approach.

Van Gemert-Pijnen stresses that this must change if the Netherlands wants to enable digital healthcare of sufficient scale to be useful in the face of the well-known challenges: an aging population, staff shortages, rising healthcare costs. “The government is expected to have a vision and policy on this.”

There are many initiatives from the government, the health care parties and changes in laws and regulations to promote data exchange. However, these do not (yet) end in practice. There is a gap between government and practice that needs to be bridged with a different approach. It requires an interdisciplinary approach to digitization in healthcare.

Take control, work better together

The report therefore calls on the government to take more control than now, such as with the Health Information Council and Wegiz. Direction guarantees privacy, inclusiveness, security and requirements for AI and algorithms that make decisions about people. Either:

  • With strong control, the government can also better prepare citizens for the impact of AI. The government must, in consultation with health professional practice and partners, develop digital policy and prerequisites for a better utilization of new and promising technologies.
  • As a government, it offers administrative power, policy, infrastructure and funding in addition to legislation for effective digitization with the aim of working faster, better and differently for continuity and quality in healthcare through technology.
  • Increase learning capacity in transitions from traditional to digital care through standardized impact assessments.

Accelerated use of digital care

According to Van Gemert-Pijnen, it is remarkable that the corona pandemic quickly led to an accelerated use of digital health technology, such as (self) monitoring in home environments, online consultations, blended care treatments for mental health care and digital source and contact tracking of infections (GGD). ).

“The pandemic showed that many barriers to the use of digital care could be overcome in a short time. However, the implementation of digital applications in healthcare lagged behind. A culture shift, digital skills training and better long-term funding are needed to assess its impact on healthcare.”

Prerequisites, measures

UT (Sustainable Healthcare Technology; TechMed Center) has prepared the report on behalf of the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport (MEVA – Directorate of Macro Economic Issues and Labor Market). The purpose of the study was to map which prerequisites and measures are important for a faster and sufficient spread of digital and hybrid health applications from the government’s policy and parties in the area. The report ‘Digitization in the health care system is being considered in more detail’ and the recommendations can be read online.

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