The Netherlands must change its approach to promoting digitisation in the Dutch healthcare sector, according to a study conducted by UT (Sustainable Healthcare Technology, TechMed Centre, and the Faculty of Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences) and commissioned by the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport. The study makes it clear that there is still a lot of work to be done when it comes to implementing technology in healthcare. “Digitisation is about more than just the use of technology – above all, it’s about a different way of working, and that requires vision, guts and leadership”, says UT professor Lisette van Gemert-Pijnen.
Digital care is becoming more and more common in healthcare. It helps reduce the sector’s high workload while keeping the rising cost of care in check. Unfortunately, adequate digital infrastructure, organisational capacity and appropriate funding for digital healthcare applications are lacking in the Netherlands. As a result, we are lagging behind compared to leading nations such as the Scandinavian countries and Estonia. UT conducted a study on digitisation in healthcare, examining both the literature and practice. This has resulted in a report containing a large number of recommendations to accelerate the digitisation process.
URGENT NEED FOR CHANGE
The report recommends that the government take a proactive and organising role in driving digitisation. Long-term policy is needed, aimed at setting in motion a process of change, as well as at finding different working methods. “One thing that needs to change is how we use personnel”, Van Gemert-Pijnen says. “In addition to medical professionals, we must use professionals with a technical-medical background and data analysts.”
To foster innovation, healthcare institutions should no longer focus solely on direct cost savings through digitisation. As things stand, there is insufficient pressure to implement digitisation in healthcare institutions because of a lack of insight into how investments can be recouped. There is also little incentive to experiment with innovations. This could be encouraged by the government, which could also expedite funding for integrated care.
EACH INSTITUTION HAS A DIFFERENT APPROACH
The biggest problem is the lack of interoperability – the ability of systems to work together and exchange information. The process of linking various IT systems to electronic patient records, for instance, has been plagued by all kinds of financial and organisational problems. Because there is no nationwide network of IT infrastructures, each institution currently has its own unique approach to IT.
Van Gemert-Pijnen emphasises that this must change if the Netherlands is to make digital healthcare possible: “The government is expected to have a vision on this, as well as a policy.” There are many initiatives from the government and parties in the healthcare sector, and laws and regulations have been changed to promote data exchange, but those changes have had little effect in practice. There is a gap between the government and practice that needs to be bridged with a different approach – a multidisciplinary approach to digitisation in healthcare.
TAKING CHARGE, BETTER COOPERATION
The report calls on the government to take charge. This would help ensure privacy, inclusiveness and security, and that there are standards in place when it comes to AI and algorithms that make decisions about people. With the government firmly at the helm, citizens could also be better prepared for the impact AI will have. In consultation with the healthcare sector and other partners, the government must develop digital policies and ensure a climate in which new and promising technologies can be used more effectively.
The authors argue that governance power, policy, infrastructure and funding should all be in place – alongside legislation for effective and efficient digitisation. The aim should be to use technology to make healthcare faster and more efficient so as to ensure continuity and quality of care. Standardised impact assessments can be used to increase learning capacity in transitions from traditional to digital care.
The study also notes that the coronavirus pandemic catalysed the application of digital healthcare technology such as monitoring and self-monitoring at home, online consultations, blended mental healthcare treatments and digital source and contact tracing by the municipal health services. “The pandemic showed us that many obstacles on the road towards digital care could be overcome in a short period of time”, Van Gemert-Pijnen says. “But still, the implementation of many digital applications is lagging behind. We need a change in culture, digital literacy training and better long-term funding to ensure that digitisation has a lasting impact on healthcare.”
This article was first published on 23 June by University of Twente.