Belgian healthcare in need of change and improvement
Healthcare is on the brink of a revolution – or should we say an evolution? A recent white paper by the Vlerick Healthcare Management Centre at Vlerick Business School has identified four trends that are set to fundamentally change the healthcare sector, allowing for more efficiency. However, investments remain a must.
“Making healthcare affordable while continuing to guarantee its efficiency requires a radically different approach. Currently, the sector focuses too much on the healing process, but in the future, we should concentrate more on prevention and customised patient care. That is perfectly achievable thanks to new technologies, such as digital microchips and powerful computer systems. Investing today can yield a lot tomorrow,” Professor Walter Van Dyck explains.
Trend 1: A shift to customised care
Bespoke medical care calls for a combination of medical and molecular knowledge, as well as testing with intense use of ICT programmes and the recording and analysis of personal patient details. Complex data patterns allow physicians to determine which treatment would have the best effect for each and every individual patient.
Walter Van Dyck believes this personalised approach has a lot of advantages. “Not only do patients receive access to better medication through a more efficient diagnosis and treatment, but customised care also allows us to cut costs. Early detection of diseases at molecular level results in earlier treatment and a higher success rate. This, in turn, reduces the need for the expensive and invasive procedures required for diseases in an advanced stage. Such customised care calls for changes and, more importantly, a faster evolution in the regulatory framework.”
Trend 2: Empowered patients
The traditional one-way communication between physicians and patients is a thing of the past. Patients consider it normal practice for their doctors to take their preferences into account and to listen to their concerns. In a nutshell, they want to be actively involved in decisions concerning their medical care.
Leo Neels, Chairman of the Advisory Board of Vlerick Healthcare Management Centre, explains, “Patients are becoming more and more proactive. They are increasingly taking charge of their healthcare. They search for information online, in forums or chat groups, and demand to be involved in their treatment. Mobile e-health tools, such as apps or watches, also allow patients to monitor specific health factors, such as their heartbeat or blood pressure. This is an irreversible evolution, and physicians should make the most of it. Moreover, this trend also creates great opportunities for collaboration between biopharmaceutical companies and developers of medical technologies.”
Trend 3: Prevention is better than cure
In Belgium, a mere 2% of the healthcare budget is allocated to prevention. What’s more, 15% of all hospital admissions could be prevented. “We could drastically reduce costs by ensuring that fewer people require expensive care, operations or in-patient treatments,” explains Walter Van Dyck. “Technology allows us to assist people more efficiently, whilst shifting the focus from disease to prevention.”
Sustained prevention calls for a healthcare system that puts patients centre stage, not only via assistance and information provision, but also via a truly multidisciplinary system that guarantees continuous care at clinical and operational level, and in terms of service provision between various organisations. Professor Brecht Cardoen, Head of the MINOZ Research Centre, explains, “One of the main obstacles is the lack of a single electronic medical file in a centralised database that can be accessed by all healthcare workers. Consequently, optimal data exchange between all stakeholders is a major challenge. Moreover, we feel the GP has a key role to play, not only as the main contact person for patients, but also as a personal health coach.”
Trend 4: A new view on financing medical innovations
Healthcare costs are on the rise. In fact, in Europe they account for about 10% of GDP. That is mainly the result of the rapidly ageing population, but it is also linked to high expectations on the quality of the care provided, as well as new medical technologies and medications.
“In these cash-strapped times, health care is increasingly considered from a profit-making perspective,” says Leo Neels. “Medical innovations and new medications can save lives. That being said, when they are launched on the market, their effects and impact on society are often difficult to estimate, resulting in delayed reimbursement or availability to patients. We need to ensure that these high-risk investments are not discouraged due to low market potential. Legislators, manufacturers and health insurance companies must therefore join forces to find solutions to keep medical innovations affordable.”
Professor Walter Van Dyck is Director of the Vlerick Healthcare Management Centre, and Leo Neels is Chairman of the Advisory Board. This European think-tank brings together all major players in the healthcare sector (service providers, technology manufacturers and policy-making bodies) and studies new developments in operational processes, (digital) technologies and innovation. Professor Brecht Cardoen is Head of the MINOZ Research Centre, a knowledge centre for operational hospital management.