Stop implementing e-health!

24 March 2016

I'm concerned. And I'd like to share my concerns with you in this blog post. Warning: this may challenge some of the deeply-rooted beliefs held by techies who believe that healthcare is all about ones and zeros. That's not true. Healthcare is about people and people can't be quantified or digitized. That said, technology can be an excellent tool to serve the interests of mankind. The only question is: How?  

Technology is developing rapidly and has helped us take huge strides forward. Our belief that technology can help us solve important problems in healthcare and other fields is perfectly understandable. But there's a drawback.

These days, there's a conference, exhibition, or article for just about everything. The underlying idea is that if healthcare organizations fail to implement technology fast enough, Silicon Valley startups and companies like Apple and Google will do it for them. This blind faith has resulted in some deeply-rooted beliefs, three of which I examine in this post.

1. We are doomed

There are entire populations that believe we'll cease to exist if we fail to adopt technologies fast enough. "Looking to the future, I can't help but see a healthcare system dominated by apps, robots, and artificial intelligence." Looking to the future, I can't help but see a healthcare system dominated by apps, robots, and artificial intelligence. Other industries are also included in this, such as the taxi or travel sectors, where technology companies have ousted long-established companies. Or have they?

Let's look at the facts: has indeed changed the travel industry in a wonderful way. But it didn't do so at the expense of hotels. Uber is a wildly successful and revolutionary taxi company with an illegal Dutch counterpart, Uberpop, that's making life miserable for taxi drivers. But Uber is also losing billions every year and is only available in densely populated areas where money can be earned.

That's not a great prospect for our healthcare system, in my opinion.


2. It's all about data!

Nonsense. In healthcare, it's all about humans. While I agree that people generate data – a lot of data, in fact – data alone "Nonsense. In healthcare, it's all about humans." is useless. I heard a good story from Professor Kalkman, an anesthesiologist at Utrecht University Medical Center with whom I co-supervise a PhD student research who is conducting cVitals on telemonitoring.

As the former head of the ICU, Professor Kalkman has spent years specializing in monitoring. In the eighties, we saw the advent of new ICU equipment and some pretty impressive claims: We could prevent a myriad of diseases simply by analyzing the data generated by these devices. As it turns out, data is useless without the right context. 

Data is a useful tool that can provide us with more insight. But that's the thing: it takes two to tango. Unless we find a meaningful way to apply data and data sources, such as wearables, in healthcare, they'll be little more than fun and fleeting gadgets. In fact, I worry that they'll distract the limited number of doctors and nurses we have at our disposal instead of adding any real value.

3. You need an app

Something I've come across a lot lately is the idea that an app will make a healthcare organization more modern. A grant (often referred to as "funds") are sought out and various people in the organization are surveyed about the functionalities they'd like to see. 

A smart programmer is then hired to create an app that has nothing to do with the existing care systems or care processes and is often built with the logo or corporate style in mind, rather than the end users. 

Even though its fun and inspiring, projects like these are often terminated when the company runs out of funds or grant money. And whose problem is it solving?

Should we just sit back and do nothing?

No, that's not an option either. But, in my opinion, the catalyst for many of the discussions involving technology and healthcare doesn't really touch on the essence of the problem.

"Healthcare will become a product of the rich; a doomsday scenario in my eyes." What we're forgetting is that the healthcare sector is facing a huge problem. If the costs continue to rise at the current level, it will put increasing pressure on our healthcare system. In other words: unless we start making some real changes, we won't be able to afford healthcare in the future. Furthermore, as a result of our aging population, we may not have enough qualified people to meet our healthcare demands. Healthcare will become a product for the rich; a doomsday scenario in my eyes.

They need you more than ever.

This problem can't be solved with an app, some smart data, or a robot. We need to change the way we think. Technology companies like Apple and Google are interested in healthcare because of the tremendous need to do things differently in the healthcare sector. These companies aren't making healthcare providers redundant; in fact, they need you more than ever. 

Client experience: putting clients first

What we can do is examine other sectors and learn from their experiences. What you'll see is that technology is not the end goal, but a tool that can be used to optimize and streamline the client experience. This is an important approach for the healthcare sector and the essence of the problem. 

While it may sound simple, it's far from easy, as it has a fundamental impact on organizations. Instead of developing superficial apps, we need to take a new approach that helps healthcare organization adapt to the digital age without compromising their values.
This is extremely tricky in my experience. It can make you feel insecure and prompt you to re-evaluate what you once knew. 

E-health is creating a new world of healthcare.

Successfully embedding technology in healthcare requires a strong leader who can connect new digital capabilities with the core values of the healthcare organization. In my case, the desire for warm, personal, and affordable care.  

"Making a link between the healthcare vision and modern technology makes it possible to structure care in an entirely new way." This realization is the real innovation. Making a link between the healthcare vision and modern technology makes it possible to structure care in an entirely new way – a way that was inconceivable just a few years ago. 

Sensors have become the eyes and ears of a home, which has reduced the number of nursing home patients who require twenty-four-hour monitoring. Mobile technology has made it possible to provide information and care independent of time or place, making it possible for healthcare professionals to plan and execute their work independently. Smart apps make it possible for patients to measure their vital signs at home and use video technology to communicate with healthcare professions, which makes it easier to identify health risks at an early stage and reduces the number of hospital visits. These are all examples of how technology can help save time and allow caregivers to focus on patients who need extra attention.

Technology serving people

Once a healthcare organization finds the right key, they can more easily adapt to the changing needs of clients. This is exactly what successful technology companies do. It's about technology serving people, not the other way around.

A great example of this is the way De Zorggroep is using e-health to improve healthcare in Venlo, a city in the province of Limburg. They are using telemonitoring to support caregivers of people with dementia. Many of these caregivers find it difficult to determine exactly when they might need help. In cases like these, caregivers can benefit tremendously from being able to contact someone when they need it. Sometimes, it's just nice to have someone to talk to and share your story with, as in the video below.

New forms of collaboration

Creating this new healthcare landscape requires leadership, dedicated healthcare professionals, committed clients, and one more ingredient: the realization that healthcare organizations need different partners. The complex, digital world is moving so fast that it's hard to keep up. You will therefore need to build relationships with digital companies to work on designing the healthcare of tomorrow. Or, as I've said before: smart technology for warm care!

Hence the title of this blog post, which I came up with after seeing a LinkedIn message from a valued contact, Joep de Groot (see image). He really hit the nail on the head.

Want to find out the steps you can take to implement this and the new healthcare landscape it can help create? Then be sure to read my next blog post. I believe that collaboration can help us achieve affordable, warm, and personal care in the next five or ten years!