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More and more parties in the Netherlands, including healthcare and welfare organisations, local authorities and municipal and communal healthcare services, are using so-called ‘broad health concept’. This means they no longer focus on someone ‘being ill’ but rather on what they can still do. How is that applied in practice, though? The National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) spent two years following three regions to see how they adapted their way of working and what their experiences were. Citizens, (healthcare) professionals, policymakers and administrators are enthusiastic but do still see challenges.

The healthcare sector is under a lot of pressure due to staff shortages, an ageing population and more expenses. One way to help solve this problem is to take ‘health’ as the starting point rather than ‘illness’. This means focusing on how we can keep people healthy for as long as possible, on what people can still do and on what makes their lives meaningful. When we ask people about other aspects of their lives, occasionally different solutions present themselves, such as getting involved in volunteer work to combat loneliness.

Positive experiences and challenges

For the purposes of this study, RIVM followed the province of Flevoland’s, the municipality of Texel and the Utrecht distric of Leidsche Rijn and Vleuten-de Meern. The parties involved in these places can see the added value of this new way of working. Organisations and professionals found it easier to connect with one another and to set up activities to improve the health of their citizens. Professionals felt they had more fun at their jobs when they used this ‘broad view’ in working with citizens or patients. Citizens noticed that they were more aware of their health and had more control over it. This way of working and taking a broader view of health is a time-consuming process, however. And the results are not clear straight away either. As such, the regions are keen to exchange knowledge and learn from each other’s experiences.

Application in practice

There are seven elements that increase the chances of a broad view of health being successfully applied in practice. Firstly, you need the support of all organisations involved, a clear focus within the approach and professionals from various organisations that know each other. It is also important for organisations to work from the perspective of what residents need and what they can do, which requires enough funding and an organisational structure that supports this way of working. Moreover, doing things this way helps to ensure that citizens are exposed to ‘healthy living’ in a variety of ways, such as through work and education. 
The Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport tasked RIVM with performing this study. RIVM previously charted how organisations were interpreting a broad health concept and what issues they had encountered.