The MedTechWest event organized by Medical Delta in June 2015 marked the first meeting a motley group of eHealth experts from TU Delft, Erasmus MC and LUMC, as well as from various companies. Prof. Niels Chavannes, professor of Public Health and Primary Care at LUMC, was one of them. “As Medical Delta we have a truly unique range of experts active in this area. During MedTechWest we realized that if we could come together and develop joint projects, we could become a global leader in this emerging field of research and applications.” As a first step, Chavannes and his colleagues founded the Medical Delta eHealth Initiative.
– Medical Delta newsletter, September 2015
The word ‘eHealth’ is a catchall for a wide range of concepts in which information and communication technologies are used to benefit healthcare. At the eHealth ‘breakout session’ of the MedTechWest event, topics included electronic coaching to keep people healthy, mobile instruments to assess and treat psychopathology and addictive behaviours, and online decision supports tools for general practitioners. Chavannes characterizes the field as booming yet chaotic: “There must be a million eHealth apps available now. But fundamental issues have not been dealt with. Often, there is no actual evidence to support eHealth developments. A prime goal for our Medical Delta initiative is therefore to develop evidence-based eHealth innovations.”
“There’s so much room for improvement,” continues Chavannes. “For example, while in marketing it is common to analyse any product’s specific target customers, in eHealth we still speak about users or patients as if they’re all the same. Yet, a healthy user will have a totally different motivation to work on his or her health than someone who’s gravely ill. We need to personalize our eHealth tools to the specific background and illness of each user. We need to connect to each user’s personal situation in order to seduce him or her to start using a tool and keep using the tool for a longer time.”
Another area where the Medical Delta eHealth initiative wants to make its mark is in establishing the actual quality of eHealth products, by assessing their effectiveness, efficiency and safety. “The proof of the pudding is in the eating. This is the keystone of any eHealth project. If a tool isn’t effective, we’re wasting our time.”
The collaboration is still in its infancy. Chavannes and co-founders have defined the initiative’s ambitions and are now looking for funding to get the first projects going. “As a multidisciplinary collaboration, we cover the areas of technology, design, medicine, psychology and even business.” While Chavannes focuses on chronic diseases, co-founder Prof. Mark Neerincx (TU Delft/TNO) works on personal health assistants for blended care, Dr. Luuk Simons (TU Delft/Health Coach Program) on blended (e)coaching, Prof. Lex Burdorf (Erasmus MC) on determinants of public health, and Prof. Andrea Evers (UL-FSW/LUMC) on the psychological determinants of self-management. “Our various ongoing projects serve as starting point and inspiration for new, joint ideas.”
Push and pull
Not just researchers and companies are attracted to the topic of eHealth, so are students. Chavannes: “We receive requests for internships, thesis projects and PhD projects on a weekly basis.” At the horizon, though, there’s no fancy building housing a joint eHealth institute. “Bricks are ‘old school’,” Chavannes says decidedly. “We will be perfectly happy as a virtual institute, linking to major players in other countries as well. It’s the connections between disciplines and institutes that make the eHealth initiative an exciting opportunity.”