Digital transformation in healthcare is not achieved alone

Team Zorg Enablers
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‘Digital transformation’ is a broad term. Not just for me, but for many of my fellow healthcare professionals. The way I see it is that it involves all innovative possibilities that improve patients’ quality of life and (healthcare) professionals’ job satisfaction. Such as quality improvement based on predictive data analyses or robots deployed at the IC. Digital technologies play an important role as catalysts in this transformation. However, the healthcare industry has some major steps to go before a successful digital transformation can be achieved. A multi-year process that will demand close collaboration.

A joint perspective is still missing at the moment.

A lot is going on when it comes to digitisation in healthcare. A development that has my full support. Unfortunately, I am also forced to conclude that the ‘not invented here syndrome’ remains all too prevalent: we all want to reinvent the wheel which is harming our ability to share in each other’s successes and failures. We do, however, share a common goal: to improve the quality of healthcare for the patient and the job satisfaction for the healthcare professional. A clear dot on the horizon that the ‘fleet’ of our organisations should be headed for. Each organisation at its own pace and with the wind in their sails at times. As it stands however, we are sailing in different directions and changing course all too often. Does that mean we are completely rudderless? No, but it would be beneficial to align our course so we can all sail in the same direction. All too often, we are insufficiently aware of what the other is doing, even within the same region.

An example. The use of smart software programmes in healthcare is on the rise. But healthcare organisations in our region use a wealth of different software programmes just for radiologists to assess lung scans alone. And I am using six different applications on my phone just to communicate with patients and other healthcare providers. It is becoming increasingly difficult to keep track of it all and all these different systems have to be able to communicate with each other as well.

Towards a single platform as a basis for digital transformation

I believe in a single integrated platform for the Dutch healthcare system that makes all different software systems and applications interoperable. Call it a one-stop-shop for healthcare. To keep things simple for the user and allow us to collect uniform data. Think PROMs and PREMs that are monitored at different healthcare organisations. Of course, every healthcare organisation gets to decide what IT supplier they want to work with, as long as it fits the guidelines and preconditions of the central infrastructure. Created by, for example, national government bodies such as the ministry and the NZa [Dutch Healthcare Authority], in collaboration with scientific institutions and the healthcare landscape.

The realisation of such an infrastructure and platform will require the government to take charge as a central body with responsibility for public health. It would be even better if the patient could be in charge of this type of issue, but they cannot oversee the medical and technical playing field. Nor can hospitals because that would mean we miss out on collaboration with healthcare networks within regions. This issue requires industry and chain-transcending collaboration. Otherwise we will end up in a situation where hospitals and nursing and home care institutions continue to use different PGOs or EPDs, to the detriment of the patient and the healthcare professional.

Fortunately, various initiatives and start-ups exist that have the potential to speed up the process considerably as long as they are involved in the right way. A good example is the NUTS initiative, which aims to set up an open communication network within the healthcare industry for easy, safe and quick data transfer between all Dutch healthcare institutions. I am convinced that we could achieve the desired digital transformation of the healthcare system much more quickly by getting this type of initiative to the table together with the government.

The necessity of administrative courage and leadership

Healthcare administrators must take their responsibility in the digital healthcare transformation as well. It all comes down to displaying administrative courage and leadership. The digital transformation currently demands room for experimentation, to start small and to develop from there. After all, we don’t always know if new technologies will be successful or not. Developments are progressing so rapidly that administrators cannot afford to linger on business cases and risk analyses.

Some healthcare organisations are still struggling to properly organise their EPD and other information systems, which also offer ways of solving the growing capacity issue in healthcare. Proper use of digital aids increases work satisfaction and efficiency. If you ask me, this constitutes an important added value in ensuring that enough staff is still available to facilitate the ever-growing healthcare demand five years down the road. If an organisation fails to invest in the digital transformation now, it may eventually lose its purpose.

A digital strategy as a foundation for the digital transformation

Deventer Ziekenhuis decided to develop a digital strategy to support our general strategy, in order to accelerate the digital transformation within our hospital and within our regional healthcare network Salland United. A strategy that focuses on ‘hard’ IT infrastructure as well as the ‘soft’ aspects of change such as organisation, processes, competencies and culture in the years ahead. Based on our digital strategy, we systematically invest in future-proof infrastructure, value-driven healthcare and business intelligence, the digital skills of our employees and the innovative capability of our organisation.

A healthcare organisation requires its internal fleet of departments, employees and patients to keep sailing in the right direction as well. As an administrator, I am always on the lookout for ships that need some extra wind in their sails. Sometimes you need to dock in order to assess and wait for other boats to catch up. But other times you are the one who needs to catch up to boats that belong to a completely different fleet, a different healthcare institution that is ahead in some way. We can align our course and prevent a situation where everyone just keeps on doing their own thing, by sharing and learning from each other. After all, successful digital transformation is not achieved alone!


Desiree Creemers

Desiree Creemers chairs the Board of Dirtectors at Deventer Hospital since 2020. As a paediatrician, Desiree gained her initial experience at RadboudUMC and Wilhelmina Kinderziekenhuis. She worked at Rijnstate for over 17 years, where she combined her medical specialisation with various management tasks since 2009 as a medical healthcare manager and as a medical director since 2013. Since her arrival at Deventer Hospital, the digital transformation has become a top administrative priority and Deventer Hospital’s investments have included the realisation of a digital strategy for becoming a future-proof healthcare organisation.