With the corona pandemic, digital remote healthcare via apps, smart sensors and other forms of telemedicine has gained momentum. A lot of patients are embracing these technological advances. But what about healthcare providers? “If they don’t adopt the technology and integrate it into their healthcare service, they will eventually lose patients,” believes Bas Bloem, a professor of neurology in Nijmegen and a Parkinson’s disease expert.

A pandemic causes a lot of suffering, yet it can bring about good things as well. “You see that the use of healthcare technology for remote healthcare has expanded,” says Bas Bloem, himself a long-time advocate of the possibilities that such technology offers and an advocate for innovations in healthcare.

“In the past, doctors sometimes thought that their patients were not keen on remote healthcare. That’s because they preferred to visit their doctor and did not have as much trust in the technology. But during the corona pandemic, there was often no other way. As it turned out, a surprising number of patients embraced the new possibilities.”

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As examples, he mentions remote consultations via a screen, sensors in patients’ homes and various bodily measurements for Parkinson’s disease, heart failure and COPD, among others.

Blended care

“You can come up with all kinds of great apps and tools for patients. Acceptance hinges on how the healthcare provider handles and supports these,” Daan Dohmen says. Dohmen is professor of Digital Transformation in Healthcare and is also a healthcare entrepreneur. With his company Luscii, which operates in seven countries throughout Europe and Africa, he tries to actively involve patients in their own healthcare and build a bridge between patients and hospitals. “Patients can do much more themselves at home and remotely, and seem to be willing to do so. The condition, however, is that their doctor or healthcare provider also embraces the new possibilities. The real magic is not in the technology, but at the intersection between technology and people. Blended care, is what we call it.”

Snapshot

Although Bloem is a staunch advocate of the use of digital technologies and remote care, he says that this is by no means a replacement for face-to-face contact. “Of course, you first have to get to know in person a patient who is new to you. Then you also have to meet face-to-face from time to time. Although making a diagnosis is really done so much better in the consultation room than remotely. Naturally, I also see the disadvantages and limitations of remote healthcare. For example when it comes to privacy issues or the accessibility of that type of care. At the same time, I see that it significantly improves the opportunities to stay in touch with and monitor the patients’ health,” Bloem notes.

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“For instance, we usually see patients with Parkinson’s disease about two to four times a year at the hospital. However, that’s always a snapshot in time. If I ask how that patient has fared over the past few months, I don’t know if I’m getting all the relevant information out of them. So it is useful to collect more information about how the patient is functioning at home via, for example, sensors or home measurements. You can objectively check how often someone has fallen. That’s important information that is basically hard to come by in the consultation room.”

Technology on its own is meaningless

As a patient, you just can’t walk into your doctor’s office; an appointment is often scheduled months in advance. “In that sense, remote healthcare has another huge advantage. You can have a quick chat,” says Bloem. “When northern Italy was hit hard by corona last year, patients with Parkinson’s disease could no longer go to the hospital. Doctors were assigned en masse to the covid ward and Parkinson’s healthcare services were scaled down. An online service was then set up, whereby patients could consult with a random nurse who they had never met. That care was greatly appreciated because they could ask their questions and get a quick answer. It is said that remote care tends to be rather cold, however, this was actually perceived as warm and personal by Italian patients.”

A similar example is the Corona Check that Luscii, Dohmen’s company, developed together with the OLVG hospital in Amsterdam. Users can enter data about their health and symptoms into this app on a daily basis and are subsequently advised whether they should get tested or not. Users can also request telephone contact with a nurse or doctor. Dohmen: “Some 30 doctors gave advice to around 200,000 people every day. We wouldn’t have been able to do that without technology.”

Nursing ward

Checking up on patients who are at home and at the same time under expert supervision via digital technology is therefore happening more and more frequently. For the patient, it saves on traveling and waiting time. The technology also supports the caregiver’s work. Additionally, this so-called ‘remote patient control’ reduces the pressure on hospitals. You can even go a step further with a virtual nursing ward: The virtual ward.

Dohmen: “This means that patients who would normally still be in hospital can go home earlier to recuperate, with the help of regular check-ups and measurements. Especially now that the corona crisis has increased the pressure on hospitals, this is an alternative that hospitals are only too happy to offer their patients. For example, Nijmegen’s Canisius Wilhelmina Hospital and the Jeroen Bosch Hospital in Den Bosch are already working with this.” Healthcare technology can moreover be used in self-care, which revolves around remote coaching and prevention.

More service and better care

Despite all the possibilities that digital healthcare technology has to offer and the accelerated implementation of it all due to the corona crisis, Bloem and Dohmen do not expect that doctors will have to be concerned about losing their jobs in the short term. Dohmen: “Technology will not replace the healthcare provider any time soon. There is too much demand and not enough provision of healthcare for that to happen. The consultation rooms will not become empty because patients prefer to use an app. But there will probably be more differentiation over the coming years.”

“Patients will look for the hospital or clinic where they can get the best treatment. In doing so, they will also probably consciously choose healthcare providers who use digital technologies as a means of support. If more remote care is possible, it won’t matter so much if that hospital is near you. If necessary, you could choose to see a doctor on the other side of the country.”

Doctors are also taking this on board. Bloem: “I suspect that doctors and hospitals will continue to use digital healthcare technology and remote healthcare options even after the corona crisis. You are providing more of a service and at the same time you are improving patient care. Those who don’t do this will be left behind and eventually lose patients.”

International Health Valley Event

Bas Bloem and Daan Dohmen are both keynote speakers at the Health Valley Event that will be held in Nijmegen on March 10 and 11 with the theme Co-Fit Future. This annual international healthcare innovation congress focuses on innovations in healthcare, but also on their acceptance and (speeding up) their implementation.

Also interesting: mHealth: get a monitoring app on a doctor’s prescription

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