What can you expect from the 5th Conference on Digital Health in Antwerp? With the Summer holidays almost over and the event approaching fast we interviewed some of our speakers. Although they all have different backgrounds and specializations, they agree on one thing: a multi-disciplinary approach is needed to create a more sustainable healthcare model for the future, enabled by technology and digital.

As Frank Dendas, who leads the Philips organisations in Belgium and Luxemburg puts it: “There are many visions of digital healthcare and they are all relevant. But now it’s time for action. We must rapidly create sufficient support for a single vision and put it into practice together; only then will patients and healthcare providers win”.

The keynote of Frank Dendas is entitled ‘The hospital without patients‘. Using real-world evidence, he reviews the potential benefits of a hospital without patients, while also providing several concrete examples of how we can change patient pathways now.

We’ve asked Frank some questions on the vision of Philips and his presentation.

The digital transformation of healthcare: adapting to the patient as much as possible

What’s your view on the digital transformation of healthcare and, more particularly, the notion of ‘the hospital without patients’?

Many industries are being – or have been – disrupted, and healthcare is no exception.

Looking at other industries, we see that the companies causing disruption – or thriving amidst it – are the ones that successfully identified where the value for their end customer lies. In most cases, this means that they have boiled their offering down to a service – not a product. The Netflix versus Blockbuster example is a commonly known one, but the comparison still holds.

What I see as a “hospital without patients” is a healthcare center of excellence that has successfully identified the key value to their patients and has optimized their processes to deliver this in the most efficient way. At the end of the day, everybody that is active within healthcare wants to help people to live healthy lives and technology allows us to do so in new and innovative ways.

When a person has a health issue, what he or she wants, above all else understanding what is wrong and feeling supported, helped and cared for every step of their healing journey. In many cases, this is not something that should be exclusively limited to within hospital walls – it is a service that can increasingly be offered at home. It is a hospital that has managed to adapt to the patient as much as possible, and that requires as little adaption from the patient as possible.

The point of care has shifted towards the patient.

We need to move beyond point-solutions: towards a seamlessly connected care flow

You will share some examples of how we can change patient pathways now. A sneak preview?

Without spoiling too much, I can already say that a lot is feasible today from a technological point of view.

Within Philips alone, we already have solutions that enable population health management, ‘first-time-right’ diagnosis, minimally invasive treatment and extramural recovery. This alone can already generate technologically advanced patient pathways that greatly reduce costs, while improving experience for patient and caregiver, as well as improving clinical outcomes.

It is equally remarkable that most of these solutions are already deployed in the Belgian healthcare system. They are however, deployed as point-solutions and not as part of a seamlessly connected care flow. Fundamentally, that is what is lacking today: a climate, a healthcare system, which truly stimulates and promotes the integration of all the technological innovation we are seeing today.

To solve this, all healthcare actors need to come together and rethink the patient pathway. Only through collaboration, by looking at all the available puzzle pieces and at the playing field, can we deliver the seamless, patient centric pathways and unlock the improved results for care providers, patients and the healthcare system. We believe that value-based healthcare is an essential component of this.

In this respect, my presentation is as much an invitation as it is a vision. We are not the solution, but we are convinced that we can be a part of it.

Moving beyond care: the need for prevention

One of the major shifts we see is that from a focus on sickness to health overall as mentioned in an eBook on the future of healthcare, including prevention. We understand that’s also the vision of Philips?

We have a very holistic outlook on health and more than one hundred years of experience in personal and professional healthcare. This puts us in a unique position in this industry.

We see that the line between patient and consumer is blurring and want to play an active role in making it easier for people to live healthier and more sustainable.

In terms of personal health, we want to continue to lower the threshold for healthy and sustainable level, in terms of professional healthcare; we want to continue to co-develop meaningful innovation that delivers against the quadruple aim, while also acting as a partner to hospitals and specialists when implementing these.  As healthcare is becoming increasing value-based, we want to become the partner to maximize that value.

Our holistic view of people’s health journeys starts with healthy living and prevention, precision diagnosis and personalized treatment, through to care in the home – where the cycle to healthy living begins again. We do not just want to “help people get better”; we want to help them live healthy for as long as possible.

The award we received in 2019 as Best Brand Award for Small Domestic Appliances we received earlier this year is an acknowledgement of these solutions. When it comes to domestic appliances, we create products that allow people to eat healthier with less effort (e.g. Airfryer, blenders, soup makers …), keep their homes healthy and clean (e.g. air purifiers, vacuum cleaners …) and track aspects of their own health (e.g. oral healthcare, mother and childcare ….). We see that consumers are becoming more and more digitized and engaged. Our products help to manage this evolution.

All of this aligns with the vision for a “hospital without patients” as well. If we empower people to live healthier and provide them with the tools to track their own health, then we can optimize the patient pathway once something does go wrong.

We feel that the line between consumer and patient is blurring and we want to play a role in lowering the threshold for a more prevention-oriented lifestyle.

The potential of telehealth in Belgium

Where do you see the role of telehealth and remote care in Belgium where population density is high and quality of care good?

There are different drives for the adoption of telehealth and remote care.In countries where physician density is low and the distances between patient and caregiver are often high – both telehealth and remote care are implemented as an immediate measure to increase accessibility of care.

While it is true that accessibility is not a concern for Belgium in this respect, for us telehealth and monitoring are a response to other challenges. Caregivers are under extreme pressure, and burnout numbers are high. On top of that, we are faced with an ageing population and more chronic diseases. By deploying remote care and telehealth, we can increase quality of care, while improving the experience for caregiver and doctor alike – all in a more financially sustainable way.

Because we still have a high-performant healthcare system, the need to deploy these solutions is less acute and the framework to deploy them in is often left to individual, forward-looking hospitals or caregivers. It is my conviction however that a successful deployment of these programs is needed sooner rather than later in order to keep the quality of care we have grown accustomed to affordable.

The role of technology in healthcare: four goals

Philips’ strategy in healthcare is based upon the quadruple aim of healthcare. Can you explain?

For everything we do, the quadruple aim is the ultimate objective. When we say, ‘improving lives through meaningful innovation’, this is what we mean: any solution that at the same time reduces costs, improves outcomes, and improves patient experience and staff experience.

If a healthcare innovation does not deliver on one of these, it is not meaningful in the current climate.

Take digital pathology for instance – a solution that we have deployed in several hospitals across Belgium, with positive results. By digitizing the pathology department, we see that both patients and the treating specialists can get their results back a lot quicker. It goes without saying that within oncology, for instance, this is a massive improvement for both patient and caregiver, both in terms of outcomes and psychological wellbeing. At the same time pathologist also wins. These departments are often overwhelmed and by digitizing – or partially digitizing – their practice, they regain the time to focus on what is important.

I strongly feel that that is the essence of the quadruple aim: we deliver better outcomes and experience at lower cost, by digitizing what can be digitized and – this is the crucial part – in doing so, we offer breathing space to care professionals to truly focus on what is important and what matters most.

At the end of the day, care is a human activity. Technology is not there to replace caregivers; it is there to support them.

That’s precisely how we see the role of digital technologies: not as a goal as such but as enablers for all stakeholders in healthcare and a sustainable model for future health.

Check out the full version of this interview with additional questions on, among others, digital health records.