More care providers are positive about the potential of eHealth (digital care). This is one of the findings of the E-healthmonitor, a survey conducted annually by RIVM, Nivel and the National eHealth Living Lab (NeLL). The survey also found that more care providers are using digital tools in 2022 than in 2021.

A growing number of care providers have come to recognise the added value of eHealth over the years. However, opinions differ about the extent to which eHealth can help solve problems in the healthcare sector. For example, care providers are neutral to slightly positive about the potential of digital tools to reduce healthcare costs and workloads and improve job satisfaction. The majority are moderately positive about the potential of using such tools to improve the quality of care and increase patient autonomy.

Growth of digital tool use

The use of digital tools in the healthcare sector increased in 2022. As an example, the percentage of care providers using video calls rose from 55% in 2021 to 58% in 2022. The percentage of GP practices offering patient portals grew from 79% to 88%. Patient portals are websites or apps that give patients access to their medical data and empower them to take certain actions autonomously, such as requesting repeat prescriptions. In addition, nurses made more use of digital tools to monitor patient safety, such as electronic checks of medication use. This use increased by 11% to 49% in 2022.

EHealth still not standard

Further in-depth research was conducted to shed added light on findings from the E-healthmonitor. Although care providers are using digital tools more often, eHealth is still not a standard part of mainstream care. This was confirmed by interviews with administrators, care providers and patients about how eHealth could be better integrated in care processes. Potential ways in which eHealth could help to improve care were studied for two types of patients: colorectal cancer patients and people with dementia.

More home-based care

In the colorectal cancer group, those interviewed saw the potential of using digital tools to make care more patient-oriented, efficient and flexible. One issue to bear in mind, however, is that some groups, such as the elderly or people whose first language is not Dutch, tend to be less familiar with the use of digital tools. The best prospects for colorectal cancer care seem to be in ‘hybrid care’, combining eHealth with in-person care. In certain instances, this would enable patients to review information, prepare for procedures or take measures at home. For example, the intake interview at the hospital in preparation for a colonoscopy could be replaced by an online intake.

Improving communication

In the dementia group, those interviewed said digital tools would mainly be useful for enhancing patient safety and well-being. Such tools may also help to save time. For example, training and coaching modules in patient portals could support both patients and their informal carers. The use of online channels may also improve communication among care providers and between care providers and informal carers.

Reasons for seeking assistance

In-depth research was also conducted into the factors leading people to seek help and support for using eHealth, focusing particularly on the elderly and people with a low socio-economic status. Those interviewed cited a number of reasons for wishing to use eHealth and seeking assistance to do so. The three most important reasons were the need they felt to prepare for the future, their wish to be independent and their wish to master eHealth because they had come across digital tools in the care they received.

Support from the social domain

Libraries are offering training courses to help people make use of digital tools. The E-healthmonitor investigated experiences of participants and instructors on one such course, DigiVitaler. This course was found to attract mostly elderly participants. They were positive about the course, stating it had increased their self-confidence and skills to use digital tools. Cooperation between libraries and other organisations in the social and medical domains, including municipalities, schools and GP practices, may help to reach other segments of the public as well.

About the E-healthmonitor

The E-healthmonitor is a survey that monitors the development of eHealth in the healthcare sector. Conducted every year, it gathers data on the use and experiences of care users and care providers. It also looks beyond the data by interviewing care providers, care users and other stakeholders. The findings are shared and discussed with those involved. The E-healthmonitor has been conducted since 2021 by RIVM in association with Nivel and NeLL, and is commissioned by the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport.