Henk van Houten

Parallel paths to improving healthcare

“Healthcare innovation is a special and complex case. Primarily because it involves concerted action from many stakeholders: patients, supportive family members, policymakers, care providers, payers and producers of healthcare solutions with their particular strengths and interests. University medical centers unite the beginning and end of innovation in cure, providing both its scientific basis and its first clinical use. But solutions need to be fit for broader roll-out to routine medical practice, and for innovations in care other stakeholders take center stage.

Finally, it is not at all covered by a single unified industrial sector. Pharma, biotech, medtech and animal health are all represented in the topsector Life Sciences and Health, but they are very diverse industries, with very different timelines for innovation. I also note that the topsector plan, for all its merits, has a gaping hole where clinical ICT should be. If you look at the challenges that face us, ICT will have an important role to play, with particular impact on realizing a much needed efficiency increase and cost containment of healthcare.

As the topsector plan rightly states, our focus should be on controlling the cost of chronic diseases and improving the quality of life of chronic patients. That means keeping patients at home as long as possible and out of the hospital as much as possible – through prevention, early diagnosis, minimally or non-invasive therapy and decentralized tools to support and monitor self-management. It also means dealing with the data explosion in, for example, oncology, and supporting the increasingly complex clinical decision making.

Pharma, biotech, as well as medtech each have their role to play in mastering these challenges, but it would be a mistake to focus on the intersections between these diverse industry segments alone. There are many roads that lead to Rome, and they do not always need to cross to get you there. For example, more than 30% of stents are put in the wrong place. They should only be placed where blood vessels are so constricted that the pressure falls. Pressure sensors on the guide wire can tell doctors precisely whether and where to place a stent. Eliminating the placement of unnecessary stents means lower costs, fewer complications and less use of drugs like heparin (which may cause adverse reactions). Such an innovation does not need new drugs to work – but parallel pharmaceutical innovations can make the therapy even more effective later on.

That is why the topsector’s plan to create ‘test gardens’ (proeftuinen) is so appealing. A test garden focuses on healthcare results and guarantees both patient access and infrastructure for quick demonstration and experimental reimbursement of solutions from each pillar. This approach is more output-driven and flexible than top institutes where industry and academia have to define 100 million euro’s worth of enabling technology projects in one go. A test garden will provide the application pull and help find funding to accelerate the testing and adoption of concrete solutions as they arise. Let us focus on improving healthcare outcomes, and patient life, by supporting innovations and solutions that get us there, whatever their origin.”

Flexible and pragmatic

  • Focus on innovations that keep chronic patients out of the hospital with an improved quality of life
  • Don’t force cooperation but let the four industry segments  pursue parallel paths
  • Use the “test gardens” concept to accelerate outcomes rather than subsidize inputs

Henk van Houten is Executive Vice President & General Manager of Philips Research and Program Manager of Healthcare. He is a member of the Supervisory Board of the Center for Translational Molecular Medicine, a board member of the Foundation for Research on Matter (FOM) and a member of the Netherlands Academy of Technology and Innovation (AcTI).