A very different perspective on technology in healthcare

10 May 2016

If we want to enjoy the same high-quality and accessible healthcare in the future, we'll have to tackle the relevant issues today. The double aging phenomenon, a rise in the number of chronic illnesses, an increase in consumerist healthcare, and an aging Dutch population resulting in fewer employees means we won't have the capacity to meet the demands. In this post I discuss three underutilized opportunities.

To me, good care is knowing that you can rely on someone to help you when you need it most. It's great to see that more and more healthcare organizations and healthcare professionals are reflecting on new care processes based on the needs of patients. Having the courage to work on this is admirable in a time defined by spending cuts.

Belgian situation, comparable to the Dutch situation.

Technology plays an increasingly important role in this new healthcare design. Digitization can help organizations on the supply side of healthcare organize their processes more effectively. This is what my previous post was about. But there are plenty of opportunities for addressing the impending capacity and solidarity problems on the other, lesser known side: demand. I've described three of these opportunities below.

"But there are plenty of opportunities for addressing the impending capacity and solidarity problems on the other, lesser known side: demand."

1. From having to sharing

In times of scarcity, the strongest or smartest tend to attract all of the resources. These individuals or organizations then have the power to share the resources or determine the price. Just look at the banking sector, the pharmaceutical sector, and the automotive industry. In many cases, this leads to inequality and forces the government to act as a regulator and distribute the resources more fairly. At least, this was how things used to work.

Technology and the sharing economy

The advent of new technologies is bringing about a new solution: the sharing economy. Perhaps the best example of this is Airbnb, an online marketplace that people can use to rent out their homes or bedrooms to others. The website currently has over two million private listings in 192 countries.

But the sharing economy goes much further. Uber is another example of a company based on the indignation and the opportunities perceived by its founders. They noticed that many taxi drivers had little to do all day. Using your smartphone to call a cab that's already driving around is an extremely effective way to address capacity issues.

A very recent example illustrates how "sharing" demand can create new opportunities. Very few people will ever own a dream car like a Porsche. But what if you could share it with like-minded people? I recently saw this plan on LinkedIn, developed by Vodafone Automotive.You can now lease the car with four other people and use an app to determine who gets to use it and when. This makes it possible for a larger group of people to fulfill their dream of owning a supercar.

Could a similar approach work for pricey healthcare resources?

Sharing in healthcare

Scarcity is also becoming an issue in healthcare. There is a shortage of resources, nurses, doctors, and paramedics. If we could make more effective use of what we already have, we could greatly expand our scope.


In my city alone, there are three excellent hospitals in a sixty kilometer radius. All of them have top-notch facilities like MRI scanners, operating rooms, and laboratories that are not being used for hours every day. If a patient were able to check a hospital's availability, they could avoid long and unnecessary wait times by going to a different hospital.

Sharing is not limited to "things", but can also be applied to staff. This could be extremely beneficial during staffing shortages in acute care, for example.

Acute care

"The costs may have been lower, but the scope of healthcare professionals would have been much bigger." I recently examined acute care in a specific municipality. Thirteen acute care teams had to be on call every night, outside general practitioners and ambulances. Ninety percent of the time this availability was unnecessary, as they were rarely needed. These were people who specialized in handicapped care, elderly care, mental healthcare, and social housing. What if smart alarm systems could alert the nearest and most qualified service? This would probably lower costs and increase the scope of healthcare professionals considerably.

Arranging things yourself

These are just two examples of what a sharing economy might look like in healthcare. There are many more examples out there. Interestingly, most sharing economies are self-regulatory and non-bureaucratic. There are several healthcare-specific examples to be found. Initiatives like EigenZorg (the Netherlands) and Honor (San Francisco) are developing apps that allow clients or their caregivers to plan and manage care directly between the client and the healthcare provider.

2. From production line to customization

A second example of healthcare technology influencing demand is preventing what I refer to as the "production line" of healthcare. When I shadowed Professor Bas Bloem for a day at his outpatient clinic, he told a patient to "come back when necessary."

He later told me that there's no such thing as an "average" in healthcare. In other words, there's no point in telling a patient to come back in six months because some patients will have to be seen a week later and others will only need a check-up three years down the line.

Care for the chronically ill

This "production line" is the foundation on which most healthcare processes rest, particularly for the care of chronically ill patients, such as those with COPD or heart failure. Technology can play a direct role in this area.

For example, if patients can measure their health at home and send their results directly to the hospital, they can be monitored far more efficiently. An algorithm analyzes the data and informs the nurse or doctor if the patient runs an increased risk. In addition to being more pleasant for patients, as it reduces the number of unnecessary hospital visits, this form of e-health is also incredibly effective.

In our clinical trials on cVitals COPD and heart failure, we found a 30% reduction in the number of hospital visits. This leaves more time and capacity for other patients who really need it.

3. Attention as effective medicine

"Attention may not be the same as care, but a lack of attention often increases the need for care." I'd like to discuss a final and often underappreciated opportunity that technology has to offer the field of healthcare. Many elderly patients are alone. When this is paired with feelings of loneliness or isolation, it often results in a more acute care need or a cry for attention.

This is something we see all too often at FocusCura. An increasing number of elderly people contact our Service Desk or call us during HomeBingo afternoon on Wednesdays just to have someone to talk to. In many cases, they haven't talked to anyone in a long time because no one's stopped by to see them, not even family.

For them, the telemonitoring solution they are offered through their home care provider is more than a professional resource. It opens up their world and keeps them connected and engaged. Attention may not be the same as care, but a lack of attention often increases the need for care.

In late 2010, Han Peekel and I made a short but intense film about this issue (see below). Some of the older people we visited shared their stories with us.

Healthcare revolution

Examples like these may inspire you to get started, and there are some truly wonderful initiatives out there. Unfortunately, we all have our own interests and making a meaningful impact is hard because it means letting go of these interests. While this may be difficult, I believe it's absolutely necessary. We need to start a healthcare revolution that prompts us to let go and share more. In light of our future healthcare demands, no one should feel left out. The truth is, we're going to need all of the healthcare workers we can get in the future!

We want to get involved and are working on this revolution with several parties. We'll tell you more about it during the EU eHealth Week. I can't wait! Contact us on LinkedIn and Twitter to share your own experiences and examples!