Portrait and video Maaike Kleinsmann: “Collaboration is a largely disused topic, but most important is to engage in it"

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Through Remote Patient Management platforms, patients and caregivers exchange information with each other. These kinds of smart, new methods are desperately needed to make healthcare future-proof. Prof. dr. ir. Maaike Kleinsmann is working to scale up and implement these systems nationwide. "When I feel something can be done better, I want to get it done," she says.

Kleinsmann is a professor at Delft University of Technology and, since her inauguration as Medical Delta professor, also a professor at LUMC. "The fact that I now have formal access to LUMC is of great value to me. I will be there more often which means I will get more exposure and see more common ground. That makes collaboration easier." She cites access to data as another benefit. "Several pilot projects in the field of remote patient management systems are already running at LUMC. This collects a lot of useful research data and, as a designer, I now have direct access to it. That makes it easier for me to design something new: I no longer have to start from scratch."


Can you briefly explain what your expertise is?

"I am an industrial designer and graduated in remote monitoring systems. When I worked on that as a student, I already noticed that I needed knowledge of many different disciplines. Then I did a PhD on understanding collaborative design - how designers collaborate with other disciplines and how to promote that with design thinking. Then I slowly moved toward health and from design more and more toward systems thinking. Now I look at health care from a systems perspective.

In the digital transformation going on there, I try to tie together the technological - and the social side. Thinking always starts from the social aspect, with the question: how can I best support the care recipient and caregiver, and what role does technology play in this? My strength as a trained product designer is that I can design both a product and a system. That helps unravel complex problems and solve social issues such as the future of healthcare."

What motivates you to work on this?

"After graduating as an Industrial Designer, I didn't want to design consumer electronics, I wanted to do something good for the world. Only back then,  there was a lack of health care design jobs. I was a student assistant for Professor Jan Buijs and through him I got into a PhD program on multidisciplinary collaboration. There I discovered what drives me: trying to get the system turned around by working together with different disciplines. When I feel that something can be improved, I want to get it done. It's a kind of activism, but from research and proven effective solutions."

How does Medical Delta add value to your work?

"I think Medical Delta is a very nice umbrella. It connects the region and involves colleges as well as universities. There also is good communication behind Medical Delta and it gives the people involved a substantive stage. Like with the short videos in which you have to explain in 1.5 minutes what you do. The idea behind Medical Delta is to change healthcare by supporting healthcare with technological solutions, I can totally relate to that."

What is it like to start collaborating with someone from a completely different discipline?

"I remember the very first meeting with cardiologist Douwe Atsma from LUMC. I was working with people from Philips and the Heart Foundation. With that, I came into LUMC. The first thing Douwe Atsma said after our presentation was, 'you are giving words to what I have been trying to do for years.' I loved hearing that because it gave me common ground to start doing research together.

I very much hope that in five years, scaling up will be successful. And that the care that can take place in the home environment will take place there. In the practice of interdisciplinary collaboration, you have to deal with very different traditions and methodology. You have to learn that. What helps is that I work a lot with professors who already work with e-health. Those are open to collaborating with design and technology and our methods."

What is your secret to successful collaboration?

"You can talk about collaboration for a very long time, but above all you have to do it. Mentoring students is a great medium for that. For example, clinical technology students, a joint program of LUMC, TU Delft and Erasmus MC. Or design students from TU Delft graduating in Leiden on a medical project. By thinking about an assignment together, the collaboration already begins. And a successful graduation assignment may very well be the beginning of a larger joint research project."

What will a patient or healthcare professional soon notice about your work and this collaboration?

"Remote Patient Monitoring is partly already there and there are already many pilots in the field of Remote Patient Care. But scaling up is not yet successful. I am working on that with Douwe Atsma and Niels Chavannes, among others. This is where my expertise comes in handy. From my background in product development I know what is involved in scaling up and how you can also scale up services with feeling for the specific contexts in which the service is implemented.

I very much hope that in five years, or a little later, scaling up will be successful. And that the care that can take place in the home environment will take place there. Not everything can be done at home. That's why we create integral care pathways from home, to hospital, to home. We map out the entire chain. The patient is in control and receives the best possible care. The condition is that the caregiver is not given another extra task, but rather is supported in reducing the workload."

You are now likely to meet more scientists from other disciplines and institutes. By whom have you been really surprised and why?

"By Douwe Atsma and Niels Chavannes whom I mentioned earlier, but also by pediatric cardiologist Arend van Deutekom of Erasmus MC. I am working with him on a remote patient system for children with a congenital heart defect. I find it special that he believed in us right from the start. We didn't have our methods in place at the time, but Arend started trying it nonetheless. He dared to do it with us, like a real pioneer. Not everything turned out successful in the past two years, but now in our third year everything seems to be working out. This is our year!"

This article is part of a series in which we highlight the eight new Medical Delta professors. Click here for the other portraits published so far.

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