As the opening speaker of the workshop "Healthcare of the Future", held during the recent HPCN'99 Conference, figured Drs. N.C. Oudendijk, who is manager of the Curative Somatic Care Department at the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport. New attention is emerging for the use of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) as part of the general health care infrastructure, to enhance overall co-operation, efficiency and quality. Support offering for fast development of the Electronic Patient File is marked with high priority. In order to co-ordinate all the ICT-related health care initiatives, the Dutch government in the autumn of 1998 agreed to launch an ICT-platform.
In his speech, Drs. Oudendijk confirmed that ICT applications in health care have been put explicitly on the governmental agenda. It is to be expected that the introduction of ICT in the medical sector will require some substantial investments. As a matter of fact, the use of ICT in health care can be viewed from different angles. First, it may serve as an excellent tool to optimize management procedures, such as the accountancy, invoicing and claims processing. A lot has been achieved already in local facilities but the co-ordination on a national scale still needs to be organized.
Second, ICT holds in store the potential to improve communication between health care professionals, operating at different levels within the health care delivery. Throughout the country, regional co-operative structures are being established to which the use of electronic communication is indispensable. Qualitative patient care very much relies on the availability of relevant data when and wherever it is needed. ICT enables a whole new approach to the spatial and organizational structure of the hospital in the next few years to come. In third place, ICT has a large role to play within the primary process of nursing, caring and curing at the patient's bedside or home. Here, ICT offers a great opportunity to reduce the physical workload of the health care personnel and to compensate its scarcity without any danger of neglecting the patient.
Drs. Oudendijk described the past policy of the Dutch government towards ICT applications in health care as one of trusting this responsibility to the workers in the field. Gradually, however, politicians have become aware of the fact that the importance of introducing ICT in medicine requires a more involved approach from the government and a need for a closer follow-up of the initiatives that have been undertaken in the field. Seen in this light, the autumn'98 agreement of the Dutch government stipulates the structural and financial expectations of both the Ministry and the field parties with regard to ICT in health care for the coming years.
As such, it has been decided that ICT has to be automatically integrated into the planning and building of new health care infrastructure in hospitals. At all times ICT-implementation has to be considered as a useful means instead of an independent goal. This principle thus implies the exclusion of separate regulations for funding or stimulation. In addition, the agreement provides in the installation of an ICT-platform to generate the governmental commitment and to bring together the different parties involved. General aim is to create one common vision in order to define the objectives which have to be realized in the field via a recurrent and interactive process between the top-down and bottom-up responsible people.
In conclusion Drs. Oudendijk stressed that the stage of tuning in to a unified language, standardization, and national implementation has begun. From the governmental side, the interest of creating an open infrastructure and an adequate settlement of the privacy aspect will be introduced to the platform. More details about the tasks and the composition of the platform are soon to follow. In the past months, intensive negotiations have been conducted with all kinds of overall organizations about projects in several partial fields of the health care sector. The approaches and results will be tackled within the ICT platform. Finally, Drs. Oudendijk outlined the danger of the millennium bug in health care and the urgent need to check out all vital parts of the hospital equipment. Please, consult the Web site of the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport for more details.