Europe is facing the challenge of delivering high quality and affordable healthcare to its citizens. Prolonged medical care for an ageing population, increasing costs to manage chronic diseases, new but costly treatment possibilities, the need for more healthcare personnel, and the demand for high-quality patient treatment are important factors in this context. Developments in (information) technology allow the redesign of medical processes, which means changing ‘traditional’ operations management. Patient treatment requires the cooperation of healthcare providers from various medical disciplines and organizations. Across these disciplines, diagnostic and therapeutic procedures must be planned and prepared, appointments must be made, medical interventions accomplished. Results of procedures are obtained, transferred and evaluated. Patient treatment processes are currently typically sub-divided into function-centered and organization-centered views, and optimization efforts stop at the doors of these organizations. Patients have to wait because resources (e.g., physicians, rooms, or technical equipment) are not available. No integrated view is available on the various medical procedures involving individual patients. Medical procedures cannot be performed because information is missing or required procedures have been postponed or cancelled. An unnecessary long duration of a treatment process can increase the invasiveness of the treatment and therefore the discomfort for the patient and the costs for the healthcare organization. These trends will accelerate because healthcare increasingly involves many different organizations in healthcare chains, making overall process awareness more difficult. To counter the trend towards longer treatment processes, unnecessarily increased costs, unsatisfactory insight into patient statuses and patient discomfort, a change is needed in the way healthcare is delivered. The key in this change is process optimization, where the healthcare process of a patient is treated as an integrated whole, even if it involves many medical disciplines and autonomous organizations. This requires a close alignment between the healthcare process, healthcare organizations and information about the patient. However, current organizational structures and information systems offer only sub-optimal support. Emphasis needs to shift from a physician-oriented, intra-departmental view towards a patient-oriented, end-to-end health chain view. The departmental and chain views must be jointly considered and optimized. Internal layout and control must be redesigned such that both the interests of the patient and of the organization are addressed. A wide variety of complex strategic and operational decisions have to be made that contribute to the simultaneous optimization of quality of care, costs, and patient lead-time. Development of an adequate information infrastructure will be an essential element in obtaining an end-to-end health chain view. This information infrastructure will need to support electronic patient dossiers. Addressing the complexity of the developments sketched above requires an operations management approach that is both multi-disciplinary and model-driven – two of the main characteristics of the Beta Research School. The Beta Healthcare program started with the official kick-off that took place at a healthcare symposium in October 2007. The program addresses problems in the healthcare domain in a science-based and practice-relevant way. In the program, research topics have been defined on the basis of five aspects of operational processes in healthcare that each require substantial improvement: process structure, flexibility, efficiency, effectiveness, and trust. The topics are based on the strengths of the research groups in Beta. Below, we describe research topics per process aspect.
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