The Martini Hospital and the GHC (Groninger Huisartsen Coöperatie - Groniger General Practitioner Cooperation) have introduced a new digital consultation solution between GPs and specialists. This secure digital environment to improve communication in healthcare has been developed together with the IT company Calculus, a subsidiary of Topicus. The health insurer Menzis is also closely involved in this new venture. Digital consultation allows the patient to remain under the care of his/her own general practitioner and not have to pay excess or deductibles for a consultation at the hospital. GPs affiliated to the GHC who regularly refer to the hospital and six* large outpatient clinics of the Martini Hospital are participating in the pilot phase. The Martini Hospital is the first hospital in the Netherlands to introduce this form of collaboration.
Patients with specific questions concerning health are referred, by their GP, to a specialist in the hospital. For a consultation in the hospital, patients must pay excess, which is not the case with a general practitioner. Improving the collaboration between GPs and medical specialists should prevent or minimize the amount of hospital referrals. Hans Feenstra, chairman of the Martini Hospital explains, "Cooperation with GPs is extremely important to us and not just from the aspect of social responsibility towards rising healthcare costs. We believe that we should treat a patient in their familiar environment if this is possible”.
Up till now contact between a general practitioner and the hospital is mostly via the telephone. The Martini Hospital, GHC and Calculus believe communication between GPs and hospitals can be improved with this new connectivity. GPs in Groningen and North Drenthe can now contact the medical specialists via the VIPLive program. “A general practitioner can ask questions to a medical specialist via the secured connection of the VIPLive’s messenger” explains Daan Verbree, Business Line Manager for GPs & Healthcare at Topicus. "The GP can attach medical data, with permission from the patient. The specialist responds within two working days and can make suggestions for further treatment at the GP’s office or ask for a referral. The consultation is recorded in GPs and hospitals and is automatically invoiced”.
Ron Cator, the coordinator of first-line collaboration at the Martini Hospital discloses, “We hope this system works as a kind of filter for doubtful cases, which means we can decrease the number of referrals. This creates room for our policlinics and ensures we increase the accessibility for people with complex problems”. In addition, referrals can be optimized, as Cator further explains, “A specialist can ask to refer a patient and advise an ultrasound for example. This means he/she can organize the consultation efficiently”.
GPs can utilize the specialist’s knowledge to better serve patients and be part of the care process. “The general practitioner remains the main practitioner and has access to advice from a specialist. As a result, the general practitioner keeps an overview of the development of his/her patient and can offer more specific follow-up care” reveals Frank Beltman, Medical Manager at GHC. “Furthermore, it can also ensure quality improvement within general practices”, reveals Beltman as he explains, “Frequent interaction with specialists increases the level of knowledge of general practitioners and support staff. As a result, considerably more patients with specialist questions are getting more direct help”.
The health insurance company Menzis is closely involved in the realization of this system. Etty ter Steeg, Regional Manager North at Menzis discloses, “Digital consultation can improve healthcare by making it more efficient and cost-effective. Less use of specialist care means lower healthcare costs for both patients and health insurers. In addition, it saves patients a trip to the hospital which follows the motto: the right care in the right place”.