• Life Sciences & Health
  • Innovate

Innovations as drivers of healthcare transition

The healthcare industry is under pressure. Too expensive, too many patients, too few healthcare professionals. To avoid a bigger crisis, we can only turn one important knob: prevention. In other words, how do we ensure that people get and stay healthier? A simple question with no easy answer. NOM sought those answers on Nov. 14 during the Prevention in Healthcare Roundtable. Guests with different perspectives discussed solutions to drive the much-needed transition.

Things must be different, perhaps radically so. Our healthcare system is unsustainable, so innovations must be given space. Ideas to implement changes within the existing healthcare sector, but also to make progress outside the sector. By focusing on the health of people, on the prevention of illness, the burden of care can be relieved. And that is desperately needed.

Innovation Power

''More attention and focus on prevention requires making better use of the innovation power available within, but especially outside, the healthcare sector,'' says Roel van der Heijden. He is program leader of Hi!Noord, with the program - driven from 2021 by the UMCG and the Aletta Jacobs School of Public Health, among others - aiming to accelerate the transition from care to health on a northern scale. ,, Our doctors are great problem solvers, they do nothing better and better than to solve disease with the best possible treatment. The only problem is that towards the future we will simply have to provide too much care with too few people. Optimizing the current system will not get us there. A growing group of physicians also sees this. They are pioneering innovative ideas to ultimately see fewer sick patients. For example, the focus on lifestyle in healthcare has increased enormously in recent years. But even outside the sector and in connection with the social domain, there are plenty of thoughts to keep people healthy and organize care outside the hospital."

Different view of innovation

Yet prevention as an innovation theme is getting off to a slow start. "This is partly because we still associate innovation with a tangible, often technological product. Whereas prevention is often about domain-transcending agreements, new organizational forms: social, non-technological innovation. If you want to get started with that, you run into all kinds of system barriers. Not only in terms of laws and regulations but also in how you can be supported as an innovator. So how do we ensure that such a good idea becomes an innovation that can make a difference in practice. From Hi!Noord, we see that our innovation ecosystem is very eager to move in that direction, and we are getting a better idea of how to better equip ourselves for this 'new' perspective on innovation. ''

New forms of entrepreneurship

The transition from care to health, in addition to a different view of innovation, thus requires room for new forms of entrepreneurship. And that is badly needed, Els Reeuwijk knows. Originally a technical physician, she has been working for a long time on bringing innovations in and around the healthcare sector into practice. She is currently working as IZA program manager on the development of the Integral Care Agreement (IZA) in Drenthe. ,,It remains a tricky story: where can you go with your beautiful innovation? Where can entrepreneurs approach health care parties? It is very good that this is now being worked on. It's already very difficult to get into the care sector, where things work the way they do.''

Van der Heijden and Reeuwijk thus argue for a different connotation of the term innovation. Els Reeuwijk: ,,That now sounds a bit scary and threatening. That everything has to be different, that something completely new is coming, that it's a lot of hassle. But that doesn't have to be the case at all. A different way of working together can already be a tremendously effective innovation. If you look at it that way, there are more people who have come up with some great ideas. Those are all innovations as far as I'm concerned.''


Van der Heijden: ,,Plenty of people see how healthcare can be done differently, or how social adjustments can lead to more health. The challenge is to turn this into an innovation that matters. That requires new forms of support and infrastructure, designed around the needs of the (social) innovator.

In terms of the level of support, it should really be like many innovative ecosystems for private entrepreneurs, Van der Heijden says. ,,We already have a great support system for that in the north, but it is based on an economic foundation. And that doesn't always work when you're talking about improving health in the public domain. The business case is often the stumbling block.


Els Reeuwijk is working on a network in Drenthe to help those innovations move forward. ,,I have a handful of strategists in the province who guide good ideas and innovations. They look for researchers or a place to try out an idea. That works, but there are too few of them. We should invest on that, build a better infrastructure for that. And then not only within healthcare, but also in municipalities, the social domain, sports, all places that are important for people's health. If we organize such networks and invest in these people, such innovations will have a much better chance.''

And reach. Because such a network is not limited to a provincial border as far as van der Heijden and Reeuwijk are concerned. "In all three northern provinces health and care networks are as we speak working on the IZA and GALA [Healthy and Active Living Agreement]. Regional plans that are going to help accelerate the transition from care to health. And in all three provinces, those agreements offer the same opportunities for entrepreneurship. Seeing those opportunities, picking up the ideas that are there, and the support to get from idea to socially impactful innovation, we therefore fly much better above regional, on a northern scale. This requires innovating, developing our own innovation ecosystem in a more transition-oriented way.


Van der Heijden: ,,The starting point for this further development is more room for reciprocal cooperation between public and private parties, and more room for innovative ideas from the public domain. We are already leading the way in the North. We are steadily building on an innovation ecosystem based on a shared vision of what we have to do in society. And of course money can be made, gladly even. But that is not the starting point for innovation.''

Prevention Challenge

During the November 14 Roundtable, many angles and bottlenecks have already been highlighted. We hope that this will allow us to challenge initiatives and ideas to participate in the NOM Prevention Challenge. We cannot yet predict with 100% certainty what it will look like, because it depends on the number of initiatives that apply and, of course, the quality of the plans.

The winner will receive 10,000 euros to spend on marketing and guidance from NOM to hopefully bring the plan to market successfully. We will put you in touch with relevant parties in the healthcare field and help you to work out methods of measuring health gain in order to arrive at the right form of reimbursement. If there are more good plans, we will try to find a way to help those as well and direct them to the right partners.