So far, the formation of the hospital networks has proved to be a difficult and delicate equilibrium exercise. We have already come a long way, but this topic will continue to be on the agenda of the hospital administrations in the coming years.
In addition, we see a huge difference in evolution and attitude between the north and the south of the country: where in Flanders the puzzle about whoever wants to work together is more or less laid, in Wallonia, particular progress has been made in the search for synergies and scenarios for centralizing support services (such as the joint project on integrated service platforms in 22 Walloon hospitals). However, in Flanders, we also see significant differences between the various networks in the number of participating hospitals and beds per network, marketing area, recognition and available technology, so that one can ask whether the care offer will be the same for everyone when the networks become a reality.
In any case, the trend has been set. There is frequent consultation between hospitals at different levels and everyone is aware that collaboration will be necessary to further increase quality and efficiency. Networks also provide increased capability and “economy of scale” when it comes to investments in technology and innovation, and that’s exactly where the major challenges of tomorrow will be: in the shared power and the ability to handle future evolution.
The fact that the government wants to commit to the centralization of pathology and super-specialization has to give the networks an additional boost. In the meanwhile it is clear that networks should primarily focus on the medical aspect. The cornerstones of network success are therefore the agreements between doctors (associations). Merging medical expertise will certainly benefit the patient, as well as the provision of super-specialized care – whether in the network itself or not. Agreements have to be made on how to work together, the financial arrangements, on call arrangements, governance,… This progress will be fully implemented if the necessary stability can be achieved and progress made irreversible. The government should therefore quickly provide for a specific legislative framework to enable further steps, because today’s uncertainty is an inhibitory factor.
In order to advance the flight it is important that the partners in the network determine as quickly as possible the value of the network and how they can valorize it. To do this, there needs to be full commitment and transparency to share information about activity, performance and costs. Only then, it will be possible to determine where the ‘quick profits’ of the cooperation are located and how cooperation can contribute to a more efficient and better care for the patient. Realizing joint projects that make a win-win for both patients and hospitals in the network are the best foundation for building the trust needed to realize a successful network. There has already been a lot of time and energy spent on the networks, but today we absolutely must have the courage to press ahead and realize a positive project in which the patient assumes the central role!