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Health & Well-being experts expect avalanche of innovation

Our health and well-being have always been important. But after everything that happened last year, it’s now front and centre in everything we do. The healthcare industry has shown incredible resilience and fantastic breakthroughs. But at the same time, the pandemic has exposed some flaws deeply embedded in the system. Now is the time to make way for innovative solutions, say these experts in the Blue Tulip Awards’ Health & Well-being theme.

The experts on Health & Well-being

Registrations have opened for innovators in the Health & Well-being theme. That means the experts prepare to look for the next game-changer in their field. We spoke with three of them: jury member Fenna Heyning, Director of Samenwerkende Topklinische opleidingsziekenhuizen (STZ); theme partner Ellen Gielen, lawyer and Head of Life Sciences & Healthcare at CMS and previous Blue Tulip Award-winners Daan Hoek and Thijs Kea, founders of UV Smart.

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Fenna Heyning: ‘Technology changed our jobs’

Despite all the struggles it’s been a good time for innovation in healthcare. “Design thinking and prototyping has advanced 200 per cent the past 2 years”, notices Fenna Heyning. She is a haematologist and currently serving as director of STZ-ziekenhuizen. STZ has some of the top hospitals in the Netherlands cooperating to improve patient care by stimulating education and research while pioneering new innovations to accelerate a transformation in healthcare.

Since Heyning’s organisation isn’t operating on the frontline of patient care, it allows them to keep an overview of the long term goals of hospitals. “Some hospitals were in the eye of the storm, right from the start of the pandemic. We didn’t want to disturb them with new innovations. But because we weren’t standing at the bedside of the patients, we were able to think about practical applications of innovation. We could figure out how we could connect people within healthcare in a new way.” 

It means Heyning’s work has changed as well. She’s spending a lot more time in Zoom meetings than before. “Before the pandemic, many healthcare workers said that their jobs weren’t suitable for remote work. But with the lockdowns, they were forced to switch almost overnight. Now I notice people are more prepared to meet online, so we can plan more meetings and discuss other topics than before. I didn’t think that technology could change the substance of your job so much.” 

Ellen Gielen: ‘the Netherlands has limiting legislation’

Ellen Gielen also sees the rise of video calls as a sign of a larger shift to innovation. Gielen is Head of Life Sciences & Healthcare at CMS. She is working with pharmaceutical and medical device companies to manage the legal components of new innovations. This means she is involved in the very first clinical trials, all the way to the market launch. 

Just like Heyning, COVID had an impact on her daily work. “I was forced to think about things I never thought of.” For instance, what are the legal implications of a GP providing a prescription for a patient he has never seen live, only through a screen? “Because of COVID, remote consults have become very popular. But the Netherlands has limiting legislation. I predict these laws will change. Things that are easy to do from a distance and do not jeopardise the safety of patient care will happen remotely.” 

Significant change

New innovations, shifting relationships and changing laws means there is a lot of work ahead for Gielen. She’s the one drafting and negotiating contracts for medicines and medical devices with hospitals. But also making sure those new innovations have the right licenses and marking to be placed on the market. Taking legal issues into consideration at an early stage will help innovations protecting from unpleasant surprises in later stages, says Gielen. “Lawyers may appear to be standing on the sidelines, but we are involved from A to Z.”

“The landscape of healthcare will change significantly in the coming ten years”, says Gielen. “It will become more digital. There will be fewer hospitals and less general care. Everything that doesn’t require immediate admission is moving to specialised clinics.”

Cold robots or warm attention?

“The biggest challenge is to retain a high quality of care, while there is a shortage of manpower”, says Heyning. “Technology can help, but we need to utilise it differently than we are doing now. We often ask ‘do we want a cold robot taking care of the elderly, or a personal nurse?’” 

That’s the wrong question, says Heyning. “I’d rather ask how we can make sure someone’s mother still receives the warm, personal care while we employ new technology wherever we can. Maybe use smart tech in the kitchen, to free up someone to spend time with mother?”

UV Smart: time-saving, prize-winning disinfection

That same approach translates to hospitals, say Daan Hoek and Thijs Kea. They are the founders of UV Smart and winners of the Blue Tulip Award 2020 in the health category. Hoek: “If the workload on healthcare workers keeps increasing at this pace, we need about 20 percent of the total workforce in healthcare in a couple of years. It’s unsustainable.” Technology can help create smart processes to save time and work. And UV Smart has developed one. 

Hoek and Kea developed a machine that utilises UV-C light to instantly disinfect endoscopes after use. This reduces the time to disinfect one after use from hours to mere minutes, saving hospitals a lot of time and money. Last year, their product called ‘D60’ won UV Smart the Blue Tulip Award in the health category. 

Read also: UV Smart is the winner of the Blue Tulip Awards 2020

“The D60 is now fully developed”, says Thijs Kea. The Delft-based startup is waiting for regulatory approval before rolling out the D60 in the market. “Everything has been handed over to the notified body for obtaining our CE-mark, the first customers have signed the order for the D60.” According to the founders, they are now focussing on internationalisation, doing business in 21 countries. Mainly in Europe, but the first steps to the USA have been taken, with some of their other UV-C machines already in use across the pond.

‘COVID gave a boost’

One clear solution to the spread of COVID-19 proved to be proper disinfection. In that regard, UV Smart’s use of UV-C light to kill bacteria and viruses couldn’t have come at a better time. “COVID gave our business a huge boost”, admits Daan Hoek. To provide for the increased demand for disinfection, UV Smart developed a smaller emergency version, the ECD. 

This machine is able to quickly disinfect face masks. Useful in the early days of the pandemic when there was a rush on PPE and supplies were quickly running low. Now, UV Smart is back to focus on its original proposition. Hoek: “The pandemic will end someday. Our D60 will continue to add value after that.”

Fostering innovation

Gielen knows UV Smart from the previous edition of the Blue Tulip Awards: “It’s a fantastic system to increase the turnaround speed, maintain the high quality and make sure hospitals have to buy fewer stocks and tools. When I look at the problems healthcare institutions have to deal with, then these kinds of solutions contribute a lot. I don’t have many startups as my clients, but I do see how important they are for the pharmaceutical and medical devices companies that I am working for.”

“The Netherlands is particularly good at this level of innovation. There are a lot of entrepreneurs actively trying to solve problems. That’s why the Blue Tulip Awards are so important. To foster these initiatives.” 

An essential part for Health & Well-being innovations, says Gielen, is that they have to get the health insurance on board. “If you can convince the insurance companies of your innovation, especially of the fact that it can reduce the cost of care in any way whatsoever, you will have a good chance of making it.” 

‘We got better every round’

As previous winners, Hoek and Kea want to advise new participants to not just focus on the award itself. It may sound cliché, but participating is more important than winning. Kea: “Innovators should fully utilise the possibilities this programme offers. The build-up of the programme is incredibly useful to finetune your business model. The coaching beforehand proved to be very valuable.” Hoek adds: “We got better every round. In the final pitch, we were able to really get to the core of what we were doing.” 

That newly gained focus helped UV Smart along the way as well. Trying entirely new things is not their style anymore. “Our future products are going to be focused on healthcare and medical disinfection only”, says Hoek. UV Smart is not going to be distracted by – potentially lucrative – side projects. “During the pandemic, we got requests to develop products to disinfect door handles and baggage claims at the airport. We tried some of those, but it took too much time and energy.” 

Avalanche of innovation

Heyning also advises new innovations to focus on providing a solution. “Some innovations are marvellous from a technological standpoint. But they are sometimes solutions in search of a problem.” As a jury member in the Health & Well-being category, she is preparing for an ‘avalanche of innovations’.  

Those do not even have to be mind-blowingly high tech. It’s the impact that counts, says Heyning: “Take Zoom, for instance. The technology has existed for quite some time. But the transformation happened now that everyone wants to use it. I expect to see a lot of innovation that applies existing technology in a new way.” 

Register for the Health & Well-being theme

The fourth generation of the Blue Tulip Awards is looking for innovations that help healthcare weather the storm and get future proof. Do you have a solution that helps save time and money while increasing the quality of care? Sign up now for the Health & Well-being theme of the Blue Tulip Awards!

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