‘We help professionals be the caregiver they want to be’
It takes a long time for healthcare innovations to reach the market. Too long. Our new Network Council member Bart Geerts, CEO of the Amsterdam startup Healthplus.ai, recently won the regional Zorginnovatieprijs, showing how we can improve the healthcare ecosystem. "We often speak with the problem owner and someone from IT these days, which turns out to be a golden combination."
Bart Geerts suspects it is no coincidence. The day after winning the North Holland Zorginnovatieprijs, he received several calls from foreign investors. “I was surprised at the reach of such an award, but other than that, we’ve mostly continued to work hard on our product since then. We are jumping through all kinds of certification hoops and that requires our attention.”
Geerts is founder of Healthplus.ai and won the award with Periscope. That tool can accurately predict whether a patient will develop an infection after surgery. This allows healthcare providers to take more proactive care of their patients. As the winner of the regional Care Innovation Award, Healthplus.ai may go to the finals of the National Care Innovation Award 2023. Part of the award also includes a one-year membership in the Network Council of Amsterdam Economic Board.
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For now, the current focus on CE device certification (in accordance with European regulations) is preventing Geerts and his 16 or so colleagues from fully participating in the regional healthcare network. “I sometimes envy companies like Philips that always have someone running around everywhere, but we really have to make choices now. I’m actually the only one now who goes out regularly.”
He is curious to see what the Network Council has to offer him. As a startup, new contacts are always nice. “What we need is pretty manageable,” says Geerts. “Investors, good contacts with end users, health insurers and potential customers. But at the Network Council, I look forward to the spontaneous meetings as well, with people from other sectors. I also deliberately followed a general MBA and not one focused on healthcare. There I learned as much from bankers as from fellow physicians.”
Conversely, Geert hopes to add some startup mentality to the Network Council. A mindset of focus and momentum. “An average established company takes 7 years for medical CE certification, we try to do it in 3.5 years,” says Geerts. “And the first time we implemented Periscope and had it operational it took six months. That was in Leiden. At Radboud Medical Center, we were ten times faster.”
A slow start
As far as Geerts is concerned, it can’t go fast enough. Because Healthplus.ai got off to a slow start. “Our start was synchronized with the launch of the AVG (general data protection regulation), and since we are into data, that turned out to be lousy timing. Only two years ago we were able to go full throttle and since then we have learned a lot. Not only about implementation, but also about how we have the conversations in hospitals. Nowadays often with the problem holder as well as someone from IT, which turns out to be a golden combination.”
This is the kind of experience Geerts would like to share more with other startups around healthcare innovation. “In the Amsterdam Metropolitan area, there is little overlap in what we do while at the same time we have many of the same challenges within health-tech.” During the Care Innovation Award ceremony, he discussed with Douwe Jippes of Healthy.Capital that network meetings could be very valuable for this group. Amsterdam Economic Board also wants to participate in this. “I hope that with such a group we can get together in a safe setting to avoid repeating each other’s mistakes. It could then cover boring topics like how to manage your pensions, but also how to set up good R&D.”
Geerts sees networking as an important task of Amsterdam Economic Board. Create cross-links between different sectors, as many organizations deal with the same issues. Initiatives such as AMdEX, for data sharing, and the Health Data Infrastructure are following Geerts with great interest. “Mainly to see how they handle security and privacy, not so much the applications themselves. In fact, we use hospital site data to recalibrate our models. Each location has a different patient population, way of working and protocols. That all affects infection risks.”
Certification is also an interesting topic for Amsterdam Economic Board’s agenda, Geerts believes. Indeed, many companies in the healthcare network are battling this. “The process is on the one hand very instructive for us: it forces us as a start-up company to set up our processes properly and work more systematically. You are forced to think very carefully about all the risks and that’s something you also benefit from as a company. At the same time, it is incredibly complex: in our case, two people are working on it full-time and we also hired some external consultancy. Because the regulations have changed, the waiting time is long. American companies seem less likely to cross over because of the new CE certification, and startups are taking years longer to bring their product to market. As a result, many healthcare innovations are not taken into use here or are taken into use much later, which is a shame.”
What could further boost healthcare innovation in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area? That valorization in hospitals is no longer a dirty word, Geerts says. “There is a lot of great research that leads to wonderful publications. Whether something is subsequently done with it is often a matter of chance, of a few enthusiastic people. For companies and spin-offs, it would be interesting if there were clear processes for this in hospitals: who can you turn to, how do we ensure that any proceeds partly flow back to the hospital?”
Keeping an overview
Geerts knows Dutch healthcare well. He worked as a physician, where his experiences laid the foundation for the work he does today. “When I was a fellow in an ICU, I spent a few days tracking how often I was called: it averaged 86 times every three hours. Those continuous disruptions make it difficult to keep an overview. To be able to address a problem when it’s still small. With tools like Periscope, you can. If you know that the chance of someone getting an infection is small, they can go home earlier or to another department. We still have piles of ideas for applications that can improve healthcare: for the further development of Periscope, but also, for example, for predicting other complications around operations. In doing so, we help professionals to be the healthcare provider they want and can be.”
But Geerts is not just about that caregiver. “A fantastic next step would be to be able to tell the patient, based on a variety of expected risks, what they themselves can do to avoid risks. Too often the patient is a suffering object, who undergoes the care and has little influence of his own. Too little attention is paid to patient-specific prehabilitation (improving pre-surgery fitness). If we can soon tell people, for example: ‘if you lose five kilos before the operation, the chance of complications is so much smaller’, then patients can literally and figuratively feel a lot stronger when they go into surgery.”
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