Innovation initiative by NL Healthcare and Arts en Zorg aimed at improving patients’ self-reliance

The idea of letting patients manage their own health, in other words to increase their self-reliance, is high on the agenda in primary and other healthcare, so reason enough for NL Healthcare to launch an innovation initiative. The purpose of the initiative is to provide patients with the tools they need to start improving their health. Arts en Zorg (Doctor and Care), part of NL Healthcare, is the healthcare provider driving the the initiative.

Arts en Zorg provides primary care (GP, pharmacy and physical therapy) at 21 health centres throughout the Netherlands. The organisation emphatically puts the interests of the patient first. Arts en Zorg describes this as follows: “We want to offer patients innovative, customer-friendly, high-quality care.” To achieve this, various healthcare providers are teaming up in multidisciplinary health centres.

Patient journey
After some research, Arts en Zorg concluded that approximately 42 percent of its patients would like to actively work on improving their health. Marcel Hilgersom, Care & ICT Innovation Manager at Arts en Zorg, says, “We asked ourselves about the products and services we could use to help this group. The key question we then faced was how to organise care if we focus on this group which wants to help itself.” Ying Sit, CIO of NL Healthcare, says, “In order to determine this, we are using the patient journey as a starting point; in other words, the path travelled by primary care patients in our organisation. Once we have determined this path, we can determine the tools and services needed to support patients in the different phases of their care.”

24-hour service
There are many providers of apps, systems, and other healthcare tools. The initiative, however, is strictly looking for an integrated solution that connects different systems and providers. One example of a service developed through the innovation initiative is the introduction of an online advisory service. Arts en Zorg patients can ask questions online via a chat service, which is then answered by a GP, mental healthcare worker or other healthcare specialist. According to Sit, “The ultimate goal is to offer a 24-hour service where patients can ask their questions day and night. This also reflects the needs of patients nowadays.” Another example is giving patients access to their own files. “In this way, we also give them control over the file and what others can see,” says Hilgersom. Sit continues, “The success of this depends wholly on secure access and exchange between the systems of GPs and pharmacies, among others. Secure access is safeguarded by DigiD. To exchange data between systems, we use the HL7 FHIR exchange standard.” The first file details that patients can see are realtime and other lab results. According to Hilgersom, “This is a pilot. We will eventually give patients access to the entire file.”

Vonk FHIR server
Furore has supported NL Healthcare and Arts en Zorg in various ways in the innovation initiative. For example, Furore helped to map the data exchange between systems based on FHIR. Furthermore, the innovation initiative uses Furore’s Vonk FHIR server. According to Sit, “At the moment, we are also looking at the options for incorporating the OAuth2 model for authenticating and authorising patients in FHIR.”

Not a technical body
The initiative has just got underway as a corporate start-up, emphasise Hilgersom and Sit. “What is different about this initiative is that it is not being developed from a technological perspective, but from the perspective of clients and their needs,” says Sit. “NL Healthcare is not a technical body anyway, but a healthcare investment company. Together with Arts en Zorg, we develop initiatives to provide patients with the tools, services and actual care that fulfil their needs.”

Initially, the initiative is focussing on the patients served by Arts en Zorg itself. “This group is significant, with about 200,000 patients in total.” Hilgersom continues, “We are of course aiming to expand this initiative considerably, so that more people can benefit from the services. We will also continue to examine what needs exist, so that we can develop suitable tools and services in these areas.”