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Hospitals leave ICT opportunities untapped

Published: 27/05/2019

“When you talk about ICT in the context of specialist medical care, we almost always refer to the EPD. But the possibilities of ICT go much further. ” That is the firm conviction of internist-hematologist Dr. Fenna Heyning (director of Collaborative Top Clinical Training Hospitals, Utrecht) and radiation oncologist-oncologist Gabrielle Speijer (Haga Hospital, The Hague). They have made it their mission to bring this through to the sector.1 “Nowadays, doctors often experience ICT applications as a burden,” they notice. However, they think it is high time that ICT enabled doctors to devote more time to their patients.

A frequently heard complaint in hospital land is that it is problematic to exchange data about patients with other hospitals because they work with a different system. “There has to be a solution for this and there is one”, says Fenna Heyning. “And it is not even necessary for all hospitals to use the same system. Just see what the banks have done with the payment terminals. Whichever bank I am at, I can pay with my debit card in any far away country. The banks have thus succeeded in linking all their different systems together. Apparently that is possible. Why doesn’t that happen in healthcare? I do think it would happen if the entire healthcare sector asked for it. ”

Technique and empathy

It is not clear to everyone that ICT plays an important role in doctor-patient contact. For Gabrielle Speijer, it is: “Radiotherapy is based on highly advanced technology and the accompanying ICT. However, this technical side only gains added value for the vulnerable patient if he can form a team with the radiotherapist, because the doctor is empathetic. Being grounded in the natural sciences and having an empathetic attitude are not opposites. However, the role that ICT can play in this is still often overlooked. ”

“As soon as we are able to make better use of the possibilities of ICT, we will have time to immerse ourselves in the patient with more empathy and compassion”, Heyning adds. “Technology can be a fantastic way to build that bridge. The possibilities of ICT go much further than just the EPD. Care comprises the full cycle of care. This runs from the moment the patient receives a complaint at home until the moment he is recovered at home. And on the way there may be a hospital in between and we work with the EPD. However, hardly any use is made of the possibilities of smartphones or social media, while they are already being fully utilized in daily life. ” She cites Google as an example, which can predict an upcoming flu epidemic on the basis of registered sickness reports. “Systems that collect this kind of information are very relevant to healthcare, but are hardly used. There are so many possible applications of ICT, so much information that doctors are unaware of or at least they do not use in healthcare. ”

To shape the link with these types of systems, Speijer sets himself up as an ambassador for the concept of data driven doctor. How Speijer will give shape to this exactly, she will be publicizing that in the short term. She is in close contact with a number of relevant partners at home and abroad who support her mission. Various partnerships have also been started.
“A recent article in Radiotherapy and Oncology calls for more attention to be paid to the possibilities of artificial intelligence, deep learning and big data.2 Another angle comes from the Prevention Agreement. This shows that the health domain and the social domain show a strong overlap. It makes a lot of difference whether a patient from The Hague comes from the Schilderswijk or Benoordenhout, where many doctors and our prime minister live. I want to be the ambassador who shows doctors the added value that better use of ICT can have.”

Communication

We have to get rid of ICT as it is now, both women believe. According to them, this requires far too much time from doctors and nurses. “We want to move towards a situation in which ICT makes it easier for doctors and nurses to do their work, so that they have time to immerse themselves in the patient with more empathy and compassion.”

This can be done, for example, by using ICT if personal contact between the doctor and the patient is not necessarily necessary. With wearables and video chat applications, patients can be monitored at home and do not necessarily have to appear in person for routine appointments. Almost everyone has FaceTime or Skype, so contact can also be made through those channels. That means that the doctor has time left for those patients who really need that time. Today, patients are allowed to go home as early as three days after major abdominal surgery. They are still far from the old and are not only in the rag basket, but also in uncertainty. There is also much room for improvement here with more ICT, wearables and WhatsApp. For example, by sending a nurse along if necessary, or contacting the doctor by telephone and clarifying what could happen and indicating which changes warrant contact with the doctor.
Another area where ICT can add a lot is cooperation in multidisciplinary care. “There are countless possibilities where ICT can support a multidisciplinary consultation (MDO), for example,” think both doctors. “In many respects we still work with methods from the analogue era. In the digital age, for example, you could involve the patient in MDO. You can also think of a system where a doctor can log in to the MDO 24/7 to drop an idea, for example because he has just discovered something in the literature. These are just a few examples, ”they say. Heyning is optimistic. “Many of these systems already exist. So we mainly need people who want to work with them.”

She and Speijer wholeheartedly agree with the statement that ICT in the hospital is too important to be left to the ICT workers alone. Speijer: “This can be done by providing the correct input based on our professional knowledge and needs, even before development takes place at all! Then there will be solutions for existing clinical questions. Where no doctor can now visualize the whole person, we will be able to do that tomorrow with the technology already available. ” “So there is plenty to do for colleagues who want to develop further in this area,” Heyning concludes.

About the author

Gabriëlle Speijer is a Radiation Oncologist at the Haga Hospital, founder of the healthcare innovation company CatalyzIT, HIMSS Future50 International HealthIT leader and member of the ICT&health editorial board.