Hybrid care, once just a buzzword in the healthcare sector, is now one step away from becoming a transformative reality in the Benelux region. In a recent interview with Koen Kas, a prominent figure in the healthcare innovation landscape, we gained valuable insights into the current state of hybrid care implementation and the challenges and opportunities it presents.
Transitioning from Buzzword to Implementation
Koen Kas believes that the Benelux region, particularly Belgium, but also Germany, has been at the forefront of recognizing the potential of digital technologies in healthcare. While the initial focus was on building mobile health applications, the concept of hybrid care, which combines digital tools with human interaction, has gained traction. As people sought healthcare solutions that did not require physical visits to the doctor, the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the value of telehealth and hybrid care.
However, Kas notes that while several promising initiatives have emerged, they often remain small and isolated. The primary challenge lies in scaling these initiatives to create a seamless, nationwide system.
Key Blockers to Scaling Hybrid Care
According to our interviewee, several significant barriers hinder the expansion of hybrid care. The first is the need to gain the trust of healthcare professionals, particularly doctors. Traditional healthcare practices have relied heavily on in-person consultations and tangible medical records. Transitioning to a model where digital tools play a substantial role can be met with skepticism. Healthcare providers need to believe that these tools are not only effective but also safe for their patients. Secondly, the reimbursement model for healthcare services varies from one country to another, and in some cases, it does not adequately encourage doctors to adopt digital health applications. They may find that the time and effort required to use these tools are not adequately compensated.
And thirdly, data collected remotely must integrate seamlessly into medical records to be trusted by healthcare providers. Such integration is a technical challenge but is vital for doctors to rely on digital health applications.
Moreover, Koen emphasizes the importance of human interaction in healthcare. While virtual care can be highly effective, it is essential to recognize that sometimes a human touch is irreplaceable. Successful hybrid care models often combine the advantages of digital tools with human guidance.
“If you think about taking care of patients, you can do a lot with virtual, but sometimes it’s the human voice, it’s the coaching, it’s the impact of the human being which we need.”
Examples of Successful Hybrid Care implementations in the local market
Koen highlights examples of successful hybrid care initiatives, such as collaborations between organizations like Comarch, the Diabetes Liga, Z-Plus - an alarming center, and i-mens, a homecare organization. This collaboration allows patients with diabetes to be monitored using basic devices, with data seamlessly transmitted to healthcare providers. The involvement of patient associations like the Diabetes Liga is crucial in scaling such initiatives.
Patient Ambassadors and Preventive Care
To overcome adoption challenges, Kas suggests using patient success stories as ambassadors to inspire others. Patients who have experienced the benefits of hybrid care can advocate for these solutions and encourage their peers to adopt them.
“If we could start to think about the first successes where you have real-world evidence that patients do benefit and they say: well, this is how we want it. They would become the ambassadors for other patients saying “oh that’s how we want it as well.” – I think that’s how you gain adoption. So, use patients to become your ambassadors.”
Furthermore, he emphasizes the importance of preventive care. By providing patients with the tools and data to monitor their health even before they become patients, healthcare systems can intervene early and prevent more severe conditions. This approach is particularly relevant for conditions like diabetes and other chronic illnesses.
Role of Government Funding and Political Will
Kas discusses an exciting development in Belgium: the launch of a citizen-centric health data platform. This platform will empower citizens to store their real-world data privately and securely, creating opportunities for third-party healthcare providers to offer personalized services. It's a groundbreaking initiative that showcases the government's commitment to support innovative healthcare solutions.
The success of such initiatives hinges on political will and funding. Koen Kas believes that the shift towards prevention and hybrid care is economically viable and can ultimately reduce the burden on the healthcare system by focusing on keeping citizens healthier for longer.
“We have realized that if we look to spendings in healthcare, for every 100€, we spend less than 2€ to prevention or prediction. We spend 99€ to the last 2 years of our lives. That is not sustainable.”
Non-healthcare players entering the game
Koen Kas highlights the potential role of non-healthcare players, such as retail giants like Best Buy, entering the healthcare game in the US. They are investing in preventive care for the elderly, leveraging data and technology to enhance healthcare delivery. This influx of non-traditional players could accelerate healthcare innovation, bypassing some of the traditional financial hurdles.
Private enterprises have the resources and incentives to drive change. They can make investments in technology, data analytics, and preventive care, which can have a transformative impact on healthcare to help it evolve and multiply the real-life proofs of the concept, vital in paving the way for a more extensive transformation.
The ideal vision of the future
Koen Kas's vision extends beyond prevention and treatment; it's about unlocking human potential. He envisions a future where digital tools, powered by generative AI, act as mentors, guiding individuals toward their fullest potential. This vision blurs the boundaries between art, technology, and health, emphasizing personal growth and legacy-building.
While AI has the potential to revolutionize healthcare, ethical considerations are paramount. Koen envisions a future where individuals willingly share their data to improve their health. However, he suggests starting with an open mindset and allowing individuals to define what they want to keep private. Data sharing, in this context, becomes a means to empower individuals and enhance their healthcare experience.