Exploration: a lot of potential for 'Healthy Society' in the delta region

Friday, January 29, 2021

Within the province of Zuid-Holland there is a lot of potential for interdisciplinary research in living labs in the field of health and prevention. That is the main conclusion of the exploration named ‘Healthy Society’, which was carried out under the leadership of Medical Delta professor Prof. Dr. Andrea Evers (Leiden University, TU Delft, Erasmus University) on behalf of Medical Delta. In the coming year, a proposal for a new scientific program will be worked out in line with Medical Delta's mission.

Health differences are increasing in the Netherlands. On average, older people with a high socio-economic status live six years longer than older people with a low socio-economic status. In addition, there is an increasing call for financing health and prevention instead of illness afterwards. A joint approach from various scientific disciplines is needed to keep our healthcare system robust, solidary and affordable. There is also a growing need for interdisciplinary research into prevention and tailor-made solutions. Digital, personalized technologies can play a key role in this.

These developments increase the need for research into prevention and the promotion of a healthy lifestyle, for research into smart technologies that match the home situation of citizens and research into reducing the risk of chronic diseases. This comes together in the theme ‘Healthy Society’. Although Medical Delta's current scientific programs also focus on prevention and better treatment methods, overall the primary focus is on (bio) medical technology research driven by a ‘cure’ perspective. Research at the intersection of psychology, sociology and technology is equally relevant to realize a transition in healthcare. Research that ultimately results in mental and social solutions, whether or not in relation to technology.

Outcome Healthy Society exploration

More than fifty administrators and researchers were interviewed during the exploration in the spring of 2020. The Medical Delta Social Council reflected on this, and in the summer more than 250 survey forms were completed by scientists from the five academic institutions (Leiden University, LUMC, TU Delft, Erasmus MC, Erasmus University) and the universities of applied sciences that are part of Medical Delta. A sounding board group, consisting of professors from the five academic institutions involved, advised on the outcomes of the foresight study from the summer months onwards.

The outcome not only contains a detailed inventory of initiatives that are at play in the field of Healthy Society, it also has a number of recommendations. In summary, these are:

  • Choose a neighborhood-oriented living lab approach in collaboration with external partners, such as municipalities and the province
  • Collect targeted data in the neighborhood (such as for example from general practitioners and lifestyle programs) for observational research and intervention
  • Link this to interdisciplinary research programs
  • Simultaneously develop interdisciplinary educational initiatives, in line with the existing Medical Delta courses
  • Set up a Healthy Society Center in which education, research and living lab initiatives come together.
  • This Center also acts as the hub of the Healthy Society ecosystem in the region
  • Make € 9 million available for a period of four years

In essence, Medical Delta endorses this point on the horizon: the exploration could form the prelude to the setting up of new scientific programs and living labs under the Medical Delta umbrella.

A lot of potential in the delta region for a Healthy Society

To achieve a transition in healthcare, a transition in research is also needed, the final report of the foresight study concludes. Research must (partly) shift from a one-sided focus on curative to preventive. Structural interdisciplinary collaboration with a multitude of disciplines is a necessary condition to be able to achieve this.

Due to their positioning, quality and complementarity, the Medical Delta universities are ideally suited to contribute to the major issues in research, education, valorization and care within Healthy Society. They can work closely with external partners, including the province, municipalities and the business community. Due to its diversity, the urban region in the province of Zuid-Holland offers excellent opportunities to investigate issues surrounding prevention, tailor-made care and health inequalities and to develop interventions. In this way, neighborhoods with their health differences can act as a Living Lab.

Next steps: think big, act small

Medical Delta now has two scientific programs that contribute to a healthy society from a technological perspective: Medical Delta eHealth & self-management for a healthy society and Vital Delta: Medical Delta's journey towards vitality and health. A working group will explore in 2021 whether a new initiative that fits the Medical Delta mission can be added to these. In parallel, other initiatives from the universities of Leiden, Delft and Rotterdam will eventually be able to form part of Healthy Society.

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