Founder views: Sybo Dijkstra, Senior Director, Philips Research UK
Everyone knows the Philips name, but few realise its Cambridge R&D operation is helping to transform healthcare in the UK and beyond. In the latest Cambridge Network Founder interview, Sybo Dijkstra, Senior Director at Philips Research UK, explains.
What makes your business distinctive?
Philips is known all over the world, but very few people know that Philips is a leader in the area of professional healthcare, motivated to improve the lives of 3 billion people a year by 2025. As our Lighting business becomes independent, Philips will focus on addressing all aspects of the so-called care continuum – from keeping people healthy to getting them home as quickly as possible after a stay in hospital – through meaningful information technology innovations that improve people’s lives.
As a global leader in healthcare - over 250 million patients worldwide are tracked with our patient monitors – we are asking some of the big healthcare questions, like ‘how can we enable patients to deal with chronic conditions within the comfort of their own homes?’ And, ‘how do we keep people living healthily for longer and prevent disease?’ These questions are at the heart of the challenges facing our national health system, which is under ever-increasing strain to deliver better care for more people with less money.
Chronic and lifestyle-related diseases are on the rise, and our population is living longer with these conditions. One in six of the UK population is over 65 and that will rise to one in four by 2050. Six out of 10 men and five in 10 women are either overweight or obese. Today, there are 60% more diabetes patients than a decade ago and 90% of those patients are suffering from lifestyle related diabetes. Eighty percent of British adults believe that establishing good health habits is essential to preventing poor health in the future, but less than half say that they actively manage their health.
We believe that to help people to live a healthy life and to support them through disease and minimise the pressures on our healthcare system, we need to provide personalised support at every stage of their journey rather than only treat illness once it is diagnosed. This means that professional medical devices as well as personal care solutions need to integrate around the individual to provide personalised health advice and coaching that help them to avoid illness for as long as possible, or provide personalised support to the healthcare professional when illness eventually strikes. Data and digital innovation is at the heart of enabling us to improve health habits and healthcare in an era of connected care. We need to move from episodic to connected and continuous care.
Our R&D facility here in Cambridge, where we have around 50 people, is acting as the eyes and ears of Philips into the R&D ecosystem of the UK. Our headquarters is in Eindhoven in The Netherlands but we have a number of research facilities around the world and the UK has always been very important for us, simply because of its dynamic economy. Cambridge is important, as it is one of the leading R&D ecosystems in the UK and in the world.
What are the greatest challenges your business faces, and how will you overcome them?
Addressing the need for care organisations to transform themselves and transform care is the biggest challenge. The ordinary way of selling products as bog standard single point solutions isn’t working. We have to articulate what kind of value they bring to healthcare systems, to patients and to society.
For Philips Research, it’s great and rewarding to work on new technologies and breakthroughs where possible, but that’s only part of the story. How a new technology fits into healthcare systems is equally important, so for example our design organisation also works on user interaction and how that technology links to other elements to transform healthcare.
When it comes to aging society, it is definitely a challenge. The UK population will grow about 15% by 2032, with the fastest growing section of people aged 65 plus. That doesn’t’t mean that people turning 65 will necessarily be a problem or become a burden to society! But the fact is the majority of your healthcare costs will be incurred in the last episode of your life – whether you are 65 or 85 years old. The prevalence of elderly people as a proportion of society will increase in the coming years and that’s a challenge that we as a society need to properly consider.
Of more concern are lifestyle changes that have occurred in the past decades. Some 15% of people in the UK have one or more chronic conditions – diabetes or obesity – and this figure is growing. We have to take better care of ourselves. Everything we can do as a society to promote healthy living and prevent disease is of course beneficial: it’s predicted that long term conditions will cost 70% of the future budget. We are surrounded by an abundance of unhealthy choices – the deep-fried Mars bar does exist – so it may be difficult.
We are looking at how we can help organisations to keep people healthy at home, for example through telehealth programmes for those with chronic conditions. In Liverpool, a technology initiative with the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) to enable people to take control of their own health, wellbeing and lifestyle, has had a major impact. Over three years, when 1600 patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), congestive heart failure or diabetes were supported at home, there was a 20% reduction in hospitalisations for the higher acuity patients’ cohort. What is more, 91% of the patients felt more in control, more confident and better able to cope.
What are the greatest challenges Cambridge faces?
It’s a fantastic city. I have been here for about three years now and I love it. East Anglia is pretty flat however and the fens remind me of my home: I went to Wicken Fen last year and the scenery was pretty much like parts of Holland.
Cambridge is growing fast and that is a good thing because it has a kind of snowball effect: it attracts dynamic entrepreneurs, businesses and all kinds of new activity, which is positive. But the issue is that facilities are following the reality – a lot of the success was something that we could have envisaged, so better planning might have made it easier to keep up with the reality and provide proper infrastructure and affordable housing. It’s not easy for talented people to start making a living here and some of them have no choice but to live in shared homes.
Another challenge is the development of IT staff. There have been so many openings for IT jobs in the region over the past few years and I think current education systems have difficulty meeting the demand. It is a challenge for many businesses to find qualified IT people.
And then, of course, everybody complains about the traffic in Cambridge. I’m Dutch so I’m used to the bicycle and I’m happy that Cambridge is one of the driest places in the UK! We are a flexible employer and have flexibility in working times and schedules, which makes it easier to commute. It doesn’t make sense for us as an employer to insist that people sit in traffic jams for hours.
What's the best thing about Cambridge?
I think Cambridge is a wonderful place when it comes to R&D, innovation and science, and for us as a company the best thing about Cambridge is definitely the brand. Being active in Cambridge and having a Cambridge address helps also to attract talent and get the attention of people and interesting research programmes on a national and international level.
Philips came to the Science Park in 2008 and we are continuously evolving in line with the interests of the company. In the UK the NHS is also evolving and with the new CEO it too is focusing more and more on healthcare transformation, so our research programmes are highly relevant. Because of external interest in the NHS, other countries want to learn about the kind of programmes Philips is conducting in the UK.
Who or what has influenced you in your business career?
My background is computer science and business – I also did studies in theology – and being involved in healthcare research is challenging, but also very interesting and rewarding. I feel passionate about our work.
During your life there are many people who influence and inspire you but I think for me perhaps some of the strongest impressions came at the beginning of my career, in my first job.
My first boss, who happened to be the CFO of one of Philips’ product divisions, was a very genuine person. He paid an interest in everybody, wherever they stood in the organisation. And although I was just an apprentice at the time, he was interested in my ideas and he listened – nothing was ridiculous as long as you could put forward a good argument. That was something that struck me and proved a very important learning point for the rest of my career.
Sybo Dijkstra was in conversation with Judi Coe, Cambridge Network Editor
This article appears in the December issue of Cambridge Business magazine.
Philips Research is one of the world's largest corporate research organizations. We develop new technologies and investigate potential growth areas for Philips. Our belief is that every innovation should start with an insight. To improve the quality of people's lives, we make a point of understanding what drives them, the dilemmas they face, and how we can help them in the best possible way.