Since the beginning of this century, we have gone through a digital transformation that effects every aspect of our lives. The way we provide and receive healthcare is no exception to this rule, the difference lies in how our healthcare system needs to adjust to these new digital trends. The challenges hospitals face in this changing environment are significant, but it is these challenges that also drive positive change and create new opportunities. We asked David Jongen, President at Zuyderland, to share the impact that the digitalization of healthcare services had on hospitals and invited him to talk about his vision for the future of our healthcare system.  

The adoption of novel medical technologies and practices, buoyed by a wealth of new research, has improved quality of life and boosted life expectancy. We’re living longer lives, and since we also prefer that those extra years are spent in good health, the demand for healthcare is on the rise. And while healthcare providers must adjust to this demographic shift, they must also contend with new cultural developments in the industry. 

To leverage the flexibility baked into the modern workforce, industry leaders have already developed the capabilities for their staff to work from anywhere. In tandem with the influx of remote collaboration tools, it seems only wise to resist the urge to return to the “old normal”. The key benefit of working from home was this – proof of concept. 

Most industries have already erected the social and technical infrastructure for distanced working. In fact, employees often prefer the freedom of choosing their own work environment -- but for some industry leaders, the choice is more urgent.

Understanding the Pressure on Dutch Hospitals

The Dutch healthcare system in particular faces a unique set of challenges. Like most of its European neighbors, the healthcare industry in the Netherlands is publicly funded. In addition to the plethora of cultural and technical demands put forward over the past few decades, Dutch healthcare providers also face tremendous budgetary pressure from the government. As bastions of broadly accessible specialty care, hospitals are bearing the brunt of this pressure. 

Over the past few years, the demand for healthcare in the Netherlands has increased by 3-4% per year, while hospital budgets have grown by less than 1% since 2018. In 2022, the healthcare budget will be frozen, requiring Dutch hospitals to find ways to decrease the number of visitations per annum while still providing quality care. And in those cases where hospitalization cannot be avoided, they must streamline their processes to get patients back on their feet and out of their halls as quickly as possible. 

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Increased demand for healthcare in the Netherlands


Increase in hospital budget since 2018

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The growing demand for healthcare along with the digital developments in healthcare challenges organizations to rethink how and where their core processes take place in order to optimize their responsiveness, talent utilization and value added. We asked our client, Zuyderland, to share how these changes helped them develop new avenues for providing care, and what role they consider e-health to have in the future of healthcare. 

The rise of remote healthcare services

Hospitals must take steps to ensure that they can not only provide care today, but also for the foreseeable future. To service growing demand without compromising quality, Zuyderland must be able to provide appropriate care to individual patients while maintaining an approach that is viable at scale – and also remaining responsive to innovations.

The accessibility of intricate ICT systems now allows healthcare consumers to accessibly set up remote care services like medical sensors, screen-to-screen care and smart medicine dispensers. Both, intra- and extramural care providers have integrated significant home automation capabilities in light of these recent changes.

An acceleration of developments in eHealth have provided patients with a wide range of potential solutions that were unthinkable only a few decades ago. Advances in telemedicine, monitoring, mobile health, informatics, virtualization, and BYOD (bring your own device) applications give hospitals the opportunity to build incredibly efficient, versatile ecosystems capable of addressing patient needs in novel ways. 
This is why leaders in medicine will look towards decentralizing to alleviate the mounting pressure faced by Dutch healthcare workers. If you can work from anywhere, you can source talent from anywhere. By rethinking why work happens where it does, organizations allow themselves to rethink the functions most essential to their success.

Improving Patient Outcomes with New Solutions

Though the pandemic has brought many of these innovation programs into the public eye, the truth is that they have been steadily humming along for years. Time has widened the neck of the corporate server, allowing more devices than ever before to connect and operate in a secure manner. Today, through the cloud, patients and caregivers can interact in secure environments that are enabling a new generation of on-demand healthcare services. 

Dutch patients are already experiencing the benefits this mindset can bring. In a few short years, the 1636 patients on Zuyderland’s IBD Coach were registered to a digital environment where they can now receive timely and specific medical advice. Here, telemedicine enables a new level of on-demand care, allowing a few nursing specialists to achieve more direct care than would be possible with traditional face-to-face interventions. 

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Patients are able to gain control over their illnesses from the safety of their homes, with the professional guiding hand of healthcare workers. This synergy between trained medical professionals, smart technological solutions, and the IT specialists needed to develop and maintain them is essential to the future of healthcare. 

After all, Zuyderland might ‘just’ be a hospital with a sizable IT department today. But tomorrow, Zuyderland might well look more like an IT company, which specializes in delivering individually tailored care.

Understanding the Operational Challenges

Of course, integrating these innovations is easier said than done. Hospitals tend to be conservative establishments. Of course, the door is always open to new techniques, but their strong sense of responsibility and sensitivity to tradition means change is not always second nature.

In Zuyderland’s case, like in that of most successful digital transitions, change is a gradual process, neither entirely top-down nor bottom-up. A clear vision for the future established and propagated by the leadership navigated the inherent enthusiasm of clinicians into the most efficient direction. At the same time, Zuyderland’s IBD Coach program would never have been as successful without the passionate clinicians that spurred its development. 

Specialists and doctors can be on-boarded through training programs to help them understand how the new strategy will actually help them do their job. But if your management believes in your goal and actively follows it, change can become contagious. Unfortunately, change also, inevitably, creates new hurdles on the freshly paved path to success. 

And since success for Zuyderland means keeping as many patients out of the hospital as possible, achieving it is no unilateral effort. Over years of planning and coordination, Zuyderland has built a robust system of cooperation with other care providers – general practitioners, elderly care – to ensure that patients can be provided the care they need without straining the hospital system.

Moving towards E-health is a Continual Process

The healthcare industry has good reason to be wary of change. The stakes are high here; missteps can cost lives. But the same can be said for doing nothing. The world is changing, bringing new challenges to bear on the way we handle health. Hospitals must chart a path to deal with those changes; taking the biggest small steps they possibly can, as often as they can. This is precisely how Dutch hospitals can face their challenges, and it is precisely what Zuyderland is doing: staying the course, working toward their long-term strategy.

The first year of COVID-19 spurred the global population to embrace remote access. For a while, this seemed to accelerate Zuyderland’s push toward telemedicine. Videoconferencing between patients and doctors became the norm sooner than expected. However, as soon as the pandemic seems to be dying down, Zuyderland is seeing a shift back toward in-person visits.

Developments like these can be frustrating, especially since the need for long-term transformations in Dutch hospitals is so pressing. However, with enough cognizance toward your environment, any development can be accommodated for. Zuyderland intends to tackle the current wave of change just as it would any other – with composure and conviction, and for a greater cause.

Last year we spoke with David Jongen, chairman of the board of Zuyderland, regarding Tech Vision 2021 to hear his vision on the future of our Dutch healthcare system and the role of digitalization. Please listen to the conversation (in Dutch) here:


Moving towards E-health

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Let us help you create value faster with your digital transformation. Contact us:

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Bram Elshof

Client Account Leadership Senior Manager, The Netherlands

Bart Verouden

Program & Project Management Senior Manager, The Netherlands

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