What impact will technology have on the future of healthcare?

7 min reading time

For Philips and TNO alike, health is an important area of innovation. TNO’s CEO Paul de Krom and Henk van Houten, the CTO of Philips, exchange thoughts on what the future of healthcare could look like. What role is technology, including medical technology, playing in this?

Thanks to smart sensors in devices and software systems that are able to measure and to interpret, more and more people are collecting personal data about their health, such as their heart rate and blood pressure. Healthcare professionals, too, are gathering increasing amounts of data about how illnesses develop and the effects of treatment. This brings new opportunities for meeting all kinds of challenges, as well as for innovation and economic growth. At the same time, this rapid digital transformation of healthcare is raising issues of its own. How do you extract the right knowledge and insights from this information overload? And, what does this mean in terms of patients’ own responsibilities and their privacy? Philips and TNO are both using smart technological solutions in their attempts to find answers to these questions.

Emphasis on products and services for healthcare

“In recent years, we at Philips have focused on health technology,” says Henk van Houten, CTO of Philips. “Around 2014, we took the decision to separate and sell our Lighting division and to place a greater emphasis on medical devices, software, services, as well as consumer health and well-being products. Total solutions, after all, are what society is asking for. To deliver these, it requires absolute focus. Our innovations are targeted at specific challenges that customers and consumers are facing; at solving sleep problems, for example, or at precision diagnostics for cancer or effective treatment of cardiovascular disease through operations using smart catheters. Digital technologies are crucial here. More than 60percentof our R&D is aimed at embedded and application software. Important emerging fields are data science and Artificial Intelligence (AI), as they enable you to make productivity gains, achieve better clinical outcomes, and solutions that are tailored to individual people.”

De Krom: “Privacy should be an integral part of the design of any digital health product and service. If, as a company, you are firmly in control of that aspect, that is in fact a selling point”

Control over your own medical data

For consumers, patients, and healthcare professionals alike, the challenge is to identify the right knowledge and insights from all the information that is available. “That is why it is essential that people are given support when taking decisions. Philips’ and TNO’s innovative solutions can help them in that process,” explains TNO’s CEO, Paul de Krom. “Not everyone has the same skills when it comes to taking responsibility of their health data. We regard it as part of our role that we should focus on this aspect too. We believe it is important that people are enabled to be in control of their own medical data. They have to be able to decide who may view what, and when.”

Privacy by design

The new privacy legislation is seen by some people as an obstacle to accessing and analyzing health data. “However, we actually regard the new legislation as an opportunity for innovation. Privacy should be an integral part of the design of any digital health product and service - something known as ‘privacy by design’. If, as a company, you are firmly in control of that aspect, that is in fact a selling point,” emphasizes De Krom.

Van Houten: “With MyHealthyJourney we are looking to bridge the gap between patients and doctors”

Translating data into insights

Also, work in hospitals is changing; equipment and data are set to play an ever-greater role. “Doctors and nurses are getting more and more data available - sometimes at crucial moments, such as in operating rooms or the intensive care. The quantity of data makes the task of interpreting it under time pressure more difficult. Smart digital solutions can help doctors to provide data in a structured and tailored manner that fits in their workflow, enabling them to take decisions more quickly and effectively. Moreover, we expect that this will lead to less stress and fewer burnouts among hospital employees, as well asto cost savings. And also important: this allows the care provider to focus more on the patient. We refer to this as ‘adaptive intelligence’,” says Van Houten.

Putting people at the heart of the healthcare chain

Philips is seeking to improve the healthcare system, to make it more accessible, and to keep it affordable. Van Houten: “The increasing costs of healthcare can only be controlled by thinking in terms of smart solutions. In doing so, we are placing the emphasis on people in the healthcare chain - from doctors and nurses to consumers or patients who are conscious of how they approach their health. Ultimately, technology should exist to support people, not the other way round.”

De Krom: “Without business models that entail value and profits ending up with the parties that invest, little will happen in the field of ‘lifestyle medicine’”

How a doctor thinks

IntelliSpace Console, for example - a dashboard that doctors use to look at medical images like CT scans or X-rays – provides information in a way that is precisely in line with how doctors think. “We are also looking to bridge the gap between patients and doctors by using a platform with smart apps, known as MyHealthyJourney. This gives patients access to their health data and  in turn a better understanding of their treatment options and steps to leading a healthier lifestyle that enables faster recovery. Ultimately, it is about their own health, so the patient has to be at the centre of it all,” says Van Houten.

Cost savings and improvements to quality

De Krom believes that without business models that entail value and profits ending up with the parties that invest, little will happen in the field of what is known as ‘lifestyle medicine’; “It is important here to create innovative models and to convince governments and other stakeholders of the value of lifestyle medicine. There is still much to be gained in this area. We have to find out how best to shape initiatives of this kind. Who is investing? What does the business model look like?” De Krom and Van Houten agree that cost savings and quality improvement go hand-in-hand, so the advancement of one should not come at the expense of the other.

Van Houten: “Constantly placing the emphasis on the experiences of patients and professionals in the healthcare chain means that digital innovation will help keep healthcare affordable while improving outcomes”

Lifestyle as medication

‘Lifestyle as medication’ is a good example of how TNO is working on innovations for healthcare on the basis of the relationship between cost savings and quality improvement. “Patients with type 2 diabetes currently get medication, but there is an alternative - a different lifestyle. It is estimated that lifestyle interventions work for around 40 percent of patients and can result in structural savings of 2.5 billion euros,” says De Krom. Philips, in turn, is looking at how sleep apnea, for example, is related to cardiovascular problems, diabetes, and obesity. “We offer a range of solutions for people with sleep apnea, such as the DreamWear sleep masks, but we also focus on personalized wearing comfort and lifestyle coaching of the patient in order to get the best-possible results,” explains Van Houten.

Is the Netherlands investing enough?

How is the Netherlands doing when it comes to innovation in healthcare? “The Netherlands has a good healthcare system and is at the forefront in the development and implementation of digital health technology. In addition, hospitals, businesses, and knowledge institutes are working closely together, involving patients, voluntary funds, and insurance companies with the development of innovation. This gives us a head start,” replies Van Houten. However, he is concerned about the low levels of investment by the Dutch government in application-based research into new fields such as data science and AI. “We are too cautious and too inclined to let everything come ‘bottom up’. Investments across the whole spectrum of the AI field are too low in this country to a make a telling impact. There is also a great need for talent in this area. The U.S. and China, and more recently France and Germany, are investing at much greater orders of magnitude. Speed is of the essence. It would be a great shame if we missed the boat.” As far as De Krom is concerned, the glass is half-full. “It is a good sign that the new coalition agreement has ushered in a change to this trend and that the government is investing in both fundamental and applied research. But a half-full glass is not enough to stay at the forefront. So a great deal more is still needed,” concludes De Krom.

Van Houten: “Doctors and nurses work under great pressure and are receiving more data than they can process. Adaptive intelligence will help them to resolve this”

TNO and Philips: international collaboration

TNO and Philips have been working in partnership for several years in the international Personalised Nutrition and Health research consortium. The main priority of the program is to collect and deploy health data to help consumers make choices that contribute to the health and well-being of each individual. “The great thing about this consortium is that not only scientific aspects are researched, but also that business models are being developed,” explains De Krom. Another example of a project where the organizations are working together is BigMedilytics. As the project leader of the BigMedilytics consortium, Philips is working in partnership with TNO for one of the twelve pilotsfocusing on meaningful use of big data in the future healthcare sector. This particular pilot is exploring privacy-friendly ways of linking datasets at an individual level to provide models and recommendations. As part of this project, TNO is developing ways of encrypting data from which calculations can then be made in confidence.

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