August 7, 2023

Douwe Jippes: 'Don't blind yourself to foreign countries for healthcare innovation’


Douwe Jippes: 'Don't blind yourself to foreign countries for healthcare innovation’

Douwe Jippes followed the discussion about the current state of healthcare innovation in the Netherlands with interest. He finds the open letters by Robbert Brouwer and Nino Bellengé fascinating, but believes they have a one-sided perspective.

By now, we are familiar with the societal challenges facing Dutch healthcare:

  • Rising costs
  • Pressure on the healthcare system
  • A shortage of healthcare professionals

These challenges compel us to transform healthcare. Innovation and digitalization are powerful tools for this transformation. A positive side effect of the COVID-19 crisis is the acceleration of digitalization. As a result, many healthcare professionals have embraced digital technologies over the past 1.5 years.

Implementing healthcare innovation

The discussion has been fueled by young entrepreneurs who argue that the healthcare system provides insufficient room for implementing innovations. In my opinion, this is an oversimplified view. The points raised by Robbert Brouwer and Nino Bellengé in their open letters are certainly valid, and as an early-stage investor, I support them.

However, I believe we need to consider these points from a different perspective. I think we should focus more on the realization of successful healthcare innovation together. At the moment, individual participants in the ecosystem have more to gain than society has to lose.

Excessive fragmentation in Dutch policies prevents a unified formulation of healthcare transformation. Brouwer and Bellengé rightly point out that they need assistance. Within the ecosystem, everyone is waiting for each other to take action. As a result, we lack a shared vision and mission. We need a mission that every member of the ecosystem can contribute to.

Innovation and transformation

Who are the members of this ecosystem? The roles are evident: patients, healthcare innovators, and medical professionals. We also have healthcare insurers, administrators, policymakers, civil servants, startup founders, entrepreneurs, and investors. Each member of this system has a clear vision within their domain. Unfortunately, these visions do not converge into a common vision and mission. This is a grave mistake for innovation and transformation.

I believe this discussion about a healthy innovation climate can be easily structured. It is something we should inherently desire. The open letters, however, present a one-sided view. If only startup founders accelerate healthcare with innovation, we will encounter obstacles. They will face the limits of what our system can handle. The system is geared toward sustainability, not change. There needs to be a structural shift in the adoption of healthcare innovation and digitalization. The key lies in linking effective innovation to evolving healthcare standards based on sustainable financing.

Prescribing digital healthcare solutions should be as easy as prescribing medication.

Digital financing programs

As an investor in healthcare innovation startups, I have seen many positive examples and successes. Can we elevate this to a higher level in the Netherlands? Absolutely. However, let's not fixate blindly on foreign models. We should certainly learn from digital financing programs like the German DiGa and the British NHSX. But in recent months, I have heard from various German healthcare experts that the entire healthcare system is not included in the DiGa program.

Prescribing digital healthcare solutions should be as easy as prescribing medication. Dutch healthcare administrators often complain about the influx of digital point solutions. They might find reassurance in the competent way colleagues prescribe medication. Why shouldn't healthcare professionals be able to prescribe many digital solutions as well?

Sustainability, digitalization, and innovation

The essence of the discussion about sustaining, digitizing, and innovating Dutch healthcare is that we need transformation. Transforming the current healthcare offering based on effectiveness is a feasible scenario. The data is readily available. We simply need to learn from it together and formulate a vision.

An innovation must be able to demonstrate that it improves healthcare and reduces costs. Otherwise, it is not a solution that we should want to implement as a society. In light of the examples provided by Robbert Brouwer and Nino Bellengé, I would also like to advocate for more clarity and proactivity from the aforementioned system players.

Desired healthcare transformation

How does each domain vision actually contribute to the transformation of healthcare? The questions the system needs to ask itself are: what is our short-term and long-term horizon? How do we finance our healthcare?

A modern system with a corresponding financing model should focus on potential improvements in outcomes for citizens and patients. It should also support the work of healthcare professionals. Only through vision can innovation and digitalization support the process or define a new process. That is the desired transformation that all system players should strive for. My call is to formulate this vision together.