Roel Dekkers
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  • The Expert

The Expert: Investing in smart health care

How can we work more sustainably, smarter and healthier? Investment manager Roel Dekkers of NextGen Ventures talks about the importance of innovations for sustainable healthcare. And how that requires perseverance from entrepreneurs.

To introduce innovations in healthcare, entrepreneurs - more so than in other sectors - need a long haul. Doctors rightly demand convincing evidence and there are high safety requirements. Nevertheless, innovation is very welcome, especially with the increasing pressure on medical care. Therefore, an interview with Roel Dekkers about the dynamics in the world of healthcare technology.

Roel works as an investment manager at NextGen Ventures, a national fund that invests in health IT and medical technology. Through Investment Fund Groningen, there is a line to the Northern Netherlands, where NextGen has a number of participations linked to the UMCG. Roel - who himself studied biomedical sciences - recognizes himself in the enthusiasm within the medical sector. 'I am still curious about what determines disease and health,' he says. 'I was trained as a researcher, although I prefer to focus on the bigger picture rather than delve into just one aspect. That's why I welcome my role as investment manager at this fund, where we contribute to innovations across the full breadth of healthcare.'

Making trade-offs

The field in which Roel works is full of challenges. 'Characteristic of these times is the paradox of medical (im)possibilities,' he outlines. There is more treatment technology than ever before and at the same time there are limitations because the pressure is increasing on all sides. On the demand side, the care side and on the financial balance sheet. From patients and hospitals to health insurers and the government: they all have their own interests. And healthcare is relevant to everyone, which is why themes such as the aging population, rising healthcare costs, increasing workload, lifestyle, medication use and the role of digitization are so topical. Moreover, the pressure on our health care system also leads to more ethical questions, such as: should we always treat? All these developments make it complex to make choices as a society, because: who makes which trade-offs and why?

At NextGen Ventures, social impact and financial return form the basis. In doing so, the investment fund always strives for healthier and smarter operations in its considerations. 'Where possible also more sustainable,' says Roel. 'Although we mainly focus on sustainable healthcare through innovations that contribute to working more effectively and efficiently. The challenge in this country is to maintain and, where necessary, improve the quality of care in a feasible and affordable way. On the one hand, this can be done through health-IT solutions, such as personalized medication use and better information provision for patients and healthcare professionals. But medical-technical solutions are also important, such as improved diagnostics and application of new medical instruments, materials and treatment methods.'

Characteristic of these times is the paradox of medical (im)possibilities.
Roel Dekkers

What is smart?

'When innovations are presented, as a fund we look first of all at what we already have and to what extent a new method or product actually contributes to smarter healthcare,' explains the investment manager. 'Four perspectives are important here - in no particular order: a) what impact does the outcome have on the quality of care, b) does it contribute to more effective care and/or lower costs, c) what does the innovation mean for patients, and d) what influence does the discovery have on the work of healthcare professionals. To gain sufficient insight into this, we delve into the matter and, where necessary, engage consultants, knowledge parties or data sources. The fact that we as investors also have to understand it is a good test for entrepreneurs to explain their innovative ideas clearly.'

'No matter how convincing a plan or product is presented, at the end of the day it's all about substantiation, and in healthcare, proof is the biggest challenge,' Roel knows. 'Because how far should and can an entrepreneur go in the process of testing? How many and what populations are involved? When is an outcome good? Medical aspects, regulations and the final responsibility of physicians throw up barriers. Entrepreneurs can be so enthusiastic about their discovery, but they must also look at it from the perspective of patients, care providers and insurers. What then remains of the success story? This is why testing and trialing innovations is essential. A process that requires extra care in the medical world. Also in timing. You don't want to wait too long to try out prototypes or plans, but you also can't start too early if there are potential health risks'.

Monitoring well

Innovation in healthcare technology takes a long breath, which is why NextGen Ventures sometimes works with entrepreneurs for years to get innovations to market. "The drive is high among these people," is Roel's experience. 'They often have a scientific background at medical (knowledge) institutions. Or they have come up with ideas to improve healthcare from another role in the medical field. And this is not limited to hospital care. We also see innovations for the paramedical sector or home care. Ideas for prevention are most challenging when it comes to evidence. Because how do you prove that someone doesn't get sick or needs less complex care thanks to a particular invention? Still, there are examples, such as reducing the burden of care by properly monitoring patients with chronic disease.'

Besides developments such as robotic surgery or new medical equipment and treatment methods, Roel sees especially smart data use as an important driver of efficient healthcare. 'Data is necessary for good monitoring, but it also ensures better designs when 3D printing instruments, for example. And effective data use contributes to smarter planning and processes, resulting in fewer medical interventions. Much can also be gained with good data exchange between different healthcare disciplines. Although the use of technology remains only one side of the story. Human behavior - from lifestyle to lifestyle - is also a key factor in reducing the pressure on our healthcare system. Entrepreneurs certainly think about that, but even the smartest apps and techniques can break down on stubborn habits. So until the holy grail for healthy and sustainable living is found, we are investing in smart healthcare.'