I’m sure you all still remember the applauses for healthcare workers at the beginning of the pandemic. It was a beautiful gesture, expressing appreciation for their incredible commitment and dedication, even though it probably meant more for the applauder than the applauded. I’m also sure most people are aware that, since those moving applauses, working situations for many healthcare workers have not improved. In several cases they worsened: increasing hours, increasing workload, increasing stress, colleagues leaving because of mental or physical burnouts. This has been the reality for many people taking care of our health and wellbeing.
It might all sound very discouraging, but there’s actually something you can do! I’m talking to you, SI and P&T students, TU/e’s do-gooders and dream-chasers. The Dutch healthcare system is in dire need of effective and human innovation, and you might just have the exact set of skills needed to help realize this major transition.
Next time you’re at a hospital ask a nurse to walk you through all the steps needed to communicate the results of your tests to your GP. You will probably feel like you’re going back in time. Obsolete interfaces, time consuming workflows, a frustrating number of applications that are badly integrated, or even totally incapable to communicate with each other, machines able to execute only one specific task (and not even in a reliable or consistent way) taking up whole cabinets and needing 3 people to set up: this is just the tip of the iceberg. Hospitals, healthcare centres and nursing homes are filled to the brim with bad technology that does not properly serve its users; nor the workers nor the patients. Doctors and nurses end up spending more and more time attending to the awful technology they must deal with to be able to do their job, leaving the patient feeling like the people who are supposed to take care of them don’t have the time to listen to them. So, when there’s bad tech in the neighbourhood, who you gonna call? SI and P&T students!
Luckily, the transition towards effective, efficient and positive healthcare has already started. It still needs the right people to push it in the right direction and speed up the process a bit. The efforts towards innovation are coming from different sides.
The government has developed countless initiatives to improve the health and wellbeing of citizens, from local enterprises to international programs. Projects towards sickness prevention and the development of healthy habits have gained more and more interest in recent years. The importance of teaching healthcare providers about good innovation has also been recognised.
A big impulse has also been coming from within the healthcare sector. The need to make good use of trained and driven medical personnel has helped organizations realize that the products and services they buy need to be designed for and with healthcare providers. Bad healthcare technology has a big impact on the quality of work; it causes frustration, the feeling of not being heard and general mistrust towards technology, making future innovations harder to adopt. Trying to prevent this, many healthcare providers have embarked in innovation projects, often in collaboration with tech companies. An example is ergotrics.com. A Dutch surgeon recognized a real issue concerning his work, in this case the need to correctly position sedated patients on an operation table. He thought of a possible solution and teamed up with the people that could help him prototype and test his solution. The result? A piece of equipment that serves its users well, the nurses, the surgeon, as well as the patients.
A medical background is not needed to develop effective technology for better health. A good idea could be enough, as long as you keep your users in the loop. Tworby is an example, set up by IS graduate Bob van den Berg. It’s a simple tool with huge health benefits: a module to attach to a bike to transform it into a tricycle for safe use by people who would otherwise not be able to use a bike, like Parkinson patients. All kinds of stakeholders were involved in its development, including of course patients and caregivers, resulting in a tool that does what it’s supposed to and is easy to use.
Of course, a lot of good innovations originate from universities and research centres. Developing new technology with both caregivers and patients has become the standard in many research groups, with big and meaningful projects as a result. Our own TU/e has made health one of the nine main focus areas for research: engineering health. I’m sure you don’t need to hear from me, someone who graduated four years ago, what kinds of projects the TU/e is offering now. Still, one noticeable mention: the Expertise Centre Dementia & Technology, a tight collaboration between researchers, innovators, patients and caregivers, to develop effective and meaningful technology to improve the quality of life of dementia patients and the people around them.
Still not interested in a career as an innovator in the healthcare sector? No problem, there are lots of other fields that also need your knowledge and expertise, almost all of the fields to be honest. Whatever career path you choose, you’re always welcome to join ITEM and keep in touch with your fellow students after graduation. Join Meet the Graduate on March 13th at Intermate if you’re curious about what might await you after university! If you want to know more about ITEM visit our website on: itema.nl