Jan Vekemans, Sales Manager, InterSystems

Three lessons that the pandemic taught us

Jan Vekemans, Sales Manager, InterSystems and member of the Innovative Healthcare Committee at AmCham Belgium

Boasting almost 40 years of IT experience, Jan Vekemans of InterSystems sees a lot of room for improvement in data usage. The following three findings indicate that the available medical data often don’t end up everywhere they could be useful or even vitally important. As a member of AmCham Belgium’s Innovative Healthcare Committee, Jan is also one of the driving forces behind the recommendations to take healthcare in our country to the next level, preparing it for potential future health crises.

1. Coordination between primary and secondary healthcare is an issue

Our hospital and care center reporting does not yet run synchronously, and the outbreak of the pandemic made this painfully clear. The number of infections, hospital admissions and deaths is communicated on a daily basis, but it transpired that deaths in care centers were not taken into account in the same way at the start of the crisis, skewing the numbers during the initial phase.

That is why AmCham Belgium advises to further commit to increased digitalization of healthcare. Such a measure would lead to better diagnoses, accelerate decision-making processes, lower expenses and increase efficiency. As things stand, there is an unfortunate lack of interconnection between primary and secondary healthcare, leading to avoidable delays.

The problem manifests itself in daily life, as well. Take the case of home care nurses who need to visit patients recovering from surgery: they do not have access to surgery-related data and so work with the instructions given by the patient or a printed prescription. By granting home nurses digital access to the patient’s medical file, a home visit could become a much smoother and risk-free affair. AmCham Belgium’s recommendations are in line with this finding: investing in accurate data collection, regulated digital access and data provision should be placed on the agenda to create a decent framework for innovation.

2. Sweden beat us to the punch in one respect at least

The Swedish Government faced criticism for its lax handling of the coronavirus – no lockdown or other strict measures were put in place. In spite of this, the average mortality rate in Sweden was lower than in Belgium during the first wave.

Whether the interoperability between Swedish health authorities has anything to do with that is still up for debate, but we do know that Swedish healthcare exchanged medical data swiftly and smoothly. That’s a major asset and advantage of their centralized health services.

The coordination between labs, hospitals and doctors in Sweden happened almost automatically, streamlined by a single institution. For instance, people who took a corona test were personally informed of the results within 24 hours, either by email or by smartphone. In Belgium, in many cases, it often took days for test results to reach the patient. Food for thought, certainly.

Taking a page from the Swedish playbook, AmCham Belgium recommends severing the ties between healthcare and politics and inviting industry experts to take a seat at the table. Expert groups could thoroughly reform the current, needlessly complex and multi-layered organization, allowing for smoother communication, collaboration and coordination between the various medical stakeholders.

3. Things could be a lot more transparent and uniform

Government communication often happened at different speeds, spreading messages that were not always attuned to each other. This created confusion, leading to various interpretations of what people could and could not do during the lockdown. It was a common thread that ran through both the political world and the hospital sector.

Because our healthcare system falls under the responsibility of multiple (regional) governments, communication was not always clear or consistent. With responsibility being passed around and a pandemic spreading fast, the ability to respond and take vitally important decisions quickly should be a priority.

The ‘Healthy Data’ we have at our disposal today could reach our treating physicians and medical personnel far quicker, if only we could get all those institutions to work together more harmoniously. Keeping that in mind, AmCham Belgium’s Innovative Healthcare Committee recommends streamlining data collection, as well as putting those data to good use and defining a clear data access strategy, aligned with purpose, context, ownership, privacy, security and trust.

If anything, COVID-19 has taught us about interoperability in the medical world and where there is still room for improvement.

About the author

Jan Vekemans, Sales Manager, InterSystems and member of AmCham Belgium’s Innovative Healthcare Committee

Jan has 37 years of experience in IT infrastructure, IT security and successfully selling complex solutions and data platforms. Today, his main focus as a trained IT analyst is to guide companies to ‘Healthy Data’.