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Medical Delta professor: ‘You can talk about collaboration until the cows come home but at some point, you actually have to start doing it’

Patients and healthcare providers use Remote Patient Management platforms to exchange information with each other. New methods like this are desperately needed to future-proof our healthcare systems. Professor Maaike Kleinsmann is working to scale up these systems and implement them nationwide.

‘You can talk about collaboration until the cows come home but at some, point you actually have to start doing it.’

Kleinsmann is a professor at Delft University of Technology and, since her inauguration as Medical Delta professor, a professor at the LUMC too. She’s also one of the Scientific Leaders of the Healthy Society in Medical Delta: Lifestyle & Prevention programme.

‘I now have formal access to the LUMC, which is hugely beneficial to me. I will be there more often so will hear more about what’s going on and see more common ground. That will make collaboration easier.’ Another benefit is access to data, she says: ‘Several pilot projects in remote patient management systems are already running at the LUMC. They are collecting a lot of useful research data that I, as a designer, now have direct access to. This will make it easier for me to design something new: I no longer have to start from scratch.’

Maaike Kleinsmann

Can you tell us a bit about your expertise?

‘I am an industrial designer with a degree in remote monitoring systems. When I was working on that as a student, I already realised I needed knowledge from many different disciplines. Then I did a PhD in understanding collaborative design – how designers collaborate with other disciplines and how to promote that with design thinking. Then I gradually moved toward health and from design more and more toward systems thinking. Now I look at healthcare from a systems perspective.

‘In the digital transformation going on there, I try to tie together the technological and the social side. My thinking always starts from the social aspect, with the question of how best I can support the care recipient and care provider, and the role of technology 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 resolve social issues such as the future of healthcare.’

What motivates you to work on this?

‘After I graduated in industrial design, I didn’t want to design consumer electronics but wanted to do something good for the world. Only, back then there weren’t really any jobs in healthcare design. I was a student assistant for Professor Jan Buijs and through him I got into a PhD programme on multidisciplinary collaboration. There I discovered what drives me: trying to turn the system around by working together with different disciplines. When I feel that something can be improved, I want to do that. It’s a kind of activism, but based on research and solutions that have proven effective.’

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What is the value of Medical Delta for your work?

‘Medical Delta is a great umbrella. It connects the region and involves universities of applied sciences as well as research universities. There is also good communication behind it and it gives the people involved a platform, like with the short videos where you have one-and-a-half minutes to explain what you do. The idea behind Medical Delta is to change healthcare by providing technological solutions to support it. 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 the LUMC. I was working with people from Philips and the Heart Foundation and that brought me to the LUMC. The first thing Douwe Atsma said after our presentation was, ‘You have given words to what I have been trying to do for years.’ That was great to hear because it was the common ground for us to start doing research together.

‘With interdisciplinary collaboration, you have to deal with very different traditions and methodologies. That’s something you have to learn. What helps is that I work a lot with professors who already work with eHealth. They are open to collaborating with design and technology and our methods.’

What is your secret to successful collaboration?

‘You can talk about collaboration until the cows come home but at some point you actually have to do it.’ Mentoring students is a great medium for that. For example, students on the clinical technology programme, a joint LUMC, Delft University of Technology and Erasmus MC programme. Or design students from Delft who do a medical project in Leiden for their graduation assignment. By thinking about an assignment together, they already start working together. And a successful graduation assignment may very well be the beginning of a larger joint research project.’

What results from your work and this collaboration will patients or healthcare professionals soon be seeing?

‘In some respects, Remote Patient Monitoring is already there and there are many Remote Patient Care pilots. But they haven’t yet been successfully scaled up. 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 a feeling for the specific contexts in which they are implemented.

‘I very much hope that we will have managed to scale them up in five years, or a little later. And that the care that can be provided in the home environment will actually be provided there. But not everything can be done at home, which is why we are creating integrated care pathways from home, to the hospital and back home again. We are mapping out the entire chain. The patient will be in control and will receive the best possible care. This is on the condition that this doesn’t mean yet another task for the care provider, but rather supports them by reducing their workload.’

You’re probably meeting more researchers from other disciplines and institutes. Who has really surprised you and why?

‘Douwe Atsma and Niels Chavannes, whom I mentioned earlier, but also by paediatric cardiologist Arend van Deutekom from Erasmus MC. I am working with him on a remote patient system for children with a congenital heart defect. Incredibly, he believed in us right from the start. We didn’t have our methods sorted out at the time, but Arend tried it out nonetheless. He took a punt on us, like a real pioneer. Not everything has turned out well in the past two years, but now in our third year, things seem 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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