The Netherlands has positioned itself as an emerging medtech powerhouse, with more than 1,100 healthcare technology startups – more than three times as many relative to population size when compared to neighbouring Germany.
The meteoric rise of the healthtech industry can be attributed to increasing costs for healthcare (which were up by approximately €9 billion in the Netherlands last year); the COVID-19 pandemic, which accelerated medical innovations; and the exponential growth of emerging technologies such as data and machine learning, with many exciting applications for the medical field.
The healthcare technology landscape is changing, as more patients in the Netherlands are seeking treatments not just in a clinical setting, but also from home. The future of medical care will be a combination of treatments overseen by doctors and autonomous and remote treatment, which empowers patients to address health issues faster and more efficiently.
“There is a shift from the traditional healthcare approach to a blended healthcare space,” says Mike Verhiel, CEO of Psylaris. “This transition is partly forced by the aftermath of COVID-19 and the ever-increasing demand for healthcare. Slowly, the Netherlands and other countries have come to the conclusion that it’s impossible to keep up with the demand without building a scalable healthcare sector. Overall, I would describe the current medtech landscape as positive and hopeful with many opportunities for upcoming innovations.”
Barriers to growth
The digitalisation of the healthcare technology field in the Netherlands has exciting potential, but there are several barriers that are impeding its growth. “Digital health can potentially solve a lot of issues in every aspect of healthcare. Connectivity, automation, and advanced analytics lead to higher quality care, with more attention to the wishes of patients and caregivers,” says Arne Bouma, Business Director of SkinVision.
However, Bouma points out that the Netherlands’ decentralised healthcare system presents some unique challenges, like managing priorities, promoting cooperation between stakeholders, scaling up local initiatives, and monitoring the nationwide implementation of digital healthcare.
“As a result, opportunities for synergy are often not exploited. In 2014, the Dutch government already mentioned specific goals for digital technology and wanted to lead and take the role of the facilitator, to boost collaboration with the larger parties in the healthcare sector.
“Besides this, the healthcare system itself is far from being equipped for the future. Reimbursement schemes are more in favour of traditional ways of thinking and focus still on healthcare therapies with traditional medical devices and medicines. Digital breakthrough innovations and new healthcare models face institutionalized barriers besides a mixture of fear and anxiety of the traditional healthcare providers.”
The benefits of digital transformation
Both patients and medical professionals stand to gain much from advancements in digital technology in the healthcare field, and some players in the Dutch market are promoting the benefits of digital transformation. “Some healthcare insurers are frontrunners and focus on different aspects of healthcare technology and innovation, for example, on patient empowerment to provide more autonomy for a patient to give a better insight into a patient’s own health,” Bouma says.
“The quality of care increases through digital applications of better appropriate treatments, based on greater availability of relevant data. Big data can be a huge advantage in the diagnosis, the choice of a specific treatment and the implementation of the treatment. Algorithms are far more advanced than the human brain. And last but not least, administrative tasks are taken over or drastically simplified, leaving caregivers more time to interact with their patient.”
Here are four examples of companies that are creating and using technology to transform healthcare in the Netherlands today.
The impact of sleep disorders reaches far beyond just feeling tired: sleep deficits can cause heart attacks, diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, and immune system disruption. Although more than 30% of Dutch people suffer from sleep disturbance, treatment for conditions such as insomnia is not covered by local health insurance. To combat the high costs and inconvenience of traditional sleep testing, Onera Health developed the world’s first medical-grade sleep diagnostic device streamlined enough to be used at home.
Unlike other polysomnography (PSG) systems currently being utilised, which employ a clunky system of sensors attached all over the body, the Onera STS I comprises only two non-invasive patches that are simple enough to be applied by the wearer without assistance from a physician. The wire-free patches are lightweight and comfortable, so patients can undergo sleep testing in the comfort of their own beds, capturing more accurate physiological data that leads to more accurate diagnoses.
Onera Health’s sleep diagnostics and monitoring technology was developed in partnership with imec, a nanoelectronics and digital tech R&D hub. The two PSG patches measure brain activity, sound pressure (to detect snoring), body position, heart rate, respiratory effort and flow, and jaw, eye, and leg movements. The device can record up to 16 hours of data, contains a built-in microphone, and the data output can integrated with commonly-used PSG software. The product provides valuable data to medical practitioners and researchers that allows them to provide higher-quality and more cost-effective sleep disorder treatments to patients, and ushers in a new era of streamlined micro-sensors that bridge the gap between clinical and at-home treatment.
Psylaris’ product suite is anchored by several products involving eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) treatment, a form of psychotherapy that helps patients who have experienced trauma. EMDR-VR treatment uses virtual reality goggles to guide users through private therapy sessions that can take place at home or in any secure environment, while Psylaris’ intelligent software learns and responds to the user’s reactions to the treatment.
Patients seeking mental healthcare in the Netherlands must contend with waiting lists longer than 15 weeks in some regions due to enduring staff shortages at the Dutch Association of Mental Health and Addiction Care (GGZ). Psylaris was created to provide efficient and cost-effective virtual reality and software solutions for mental health disorders which are subsidised by public health insurance in the Netherlands. The treatment’s blended approach allows patients to undergo treatments autonomously in between appointments with a qualified therapist, providing access to psychological care when and where it is needed.
With Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy, the software allows healthcare providers to use 360-degree videos and images to create realistic and immersive environments to help users better face their fears. Non-VR sessions can be provided by therapists for free through EMDR Remote, which can be accessed via any browser.
Patients plagued by anxiety and stress can access Psylaris Care’s Relaxation module, developed alongside mental healthcare providers and organizations to help patients cope with stress with techniques like binaural audio, adaptive environments, mediation, and breathing exercises. The company’s newest solution, set to be released in the following months, will help users suffering from chronic pain.
The Netherlands has one of the highest reported rates of skin cancer in the world, with approximately one in six people diagnosed with a type of skin cancer during their lifetime. Early detection is key: most kinds of skin cancer can be successfully treated if they are identified before they have a chance to spread to other parts of the body. SkinVision’s AI-powered application was developed to examine the skin and detect skin cancer risks with 95% accuracy in only 30 seconds, allowing users to perform self-checks and monitor their skin health autonomously.
SkinVision’s proprietary AI-based algorithm, trained by 100,000 user photos examined and classified with risk labels by dermatologists, assesses the fractal dimension of skin lesions and the tissue that surrounds them. Users take a photo of an area of the skin, receive an analysis, and track any changes in skin spots over time. Based on the data gathered, the algorithm creates a customised structural map that indicates patterns of growth and labels spots with a risk rating and recommendations for monitoring.
“There is an upward trend in the use of artificial intelligence as a diagnostic aid in dermatology,” says Arne Bouma from SkinVision. “The application of computational methods is being used in dermatology for faster data processing to give better and more reliable diagnoses. SkinVision, for instance, benefits health care practitioners by providing them with a tool that helps improve skin cancer diagnostic precision and in turn, speeds up the service and quality of care to patients. There is also a huge benefit of AI in preventive care: applications such as ours are helping people track different aspects of their lifestyle. This encourages them to adopt healthier behaviour and proactive health management, putting them in control of their own health and well-being.”
Clinical trials are a cumbersome but necessary step towards tackling the world’s greatest health challenges, but issues with standardisation, reporting, quality of data, and study design result in up to 85% of health research never being used. Castor has created a cloud-based medical data platform that makes the process of clinical trials more efficient, so that valuable data and evidence can be put to work in finding life-saving solutions for health conditions.
For researchers, the greatest innovation of the platform is a significantly reduced time to deployment for studies: 90% of users are ready to commence trials within only four weeks. Castor EDC enables researchers to capture data through a user-friendly questionnaire and patient form-builder tool, and easily integrate data from any number of sources through its electronic data capture (EDC) system. Participants in studies can be recruited and enrolled easily with Castor’s eConsent tool, which reduces the complexity of on-boarding patients and uses automation to match candidates to relevant studies faster.
Users can easily create complex eCRFs (electronic case report forms) with unlimited data fields, analyse data with complex field calculations, and clone and re-use templates again for future trials.
The platform seamlessly integrate an unlimited number of data points from any source in real time, such as wearables and IoT devices. Castor handles a wealth of sensitive patient data such as medical history, medications, and adverse health events, so data protection is key: the platform is managed from a private cloud, automatically generates pseudonyms, encrypts data, and offers two-factor authentication to researchers.
Continue reading for free
Create your free Insider account or sign in to continue reading. Learn more