As patients, professionals and systems keep waiting for the promised benefits of digitally-enabled healthcare, DIGITALEUROPE decided to take stock of progress made so far and to identify the main hurdles and potential solutions for a smoother and faster path towards giving all Europeans the full benefit of data-driven healthcare. With this in mind, we set up a dedicated workshop in the time-honoured ‘Digital in Practice Programme’. The following experts had agreed to share their perspective and experience to launch the conversation on 19 November.
Ioana-Maria Gligor, Head of Unit, DG SANTE
European Reference Networks and Digital Health
Petra De Sutter, MEP, Chair IMCO
Jakob Tellgren, Vice President, Head of Nordics and Baltics, MSD
Sarah Collen, Senior Policy Manager, NHS European Office
Lenard Koschwitz, Senior Director Global Public Policy,Allied for Startups
There was a consensus that ICT offers tremendous opportunities in healthcare. The health sector may even provide the EU with a rare occasion to lead the world. This is because health is experienced by all and close to everybody’s heart, and constitutes a key part of the EU welfare model. There is no denying that the challenge to find a balance between the need for regulationthat protects the right to privacy and patient safety, and the importance of nurturing and foresting innovation is steep. But precisely, the EU had a head start as regards personal data protection with the GDPR; it is also leading the implementation of trustworthy AI. As a result, it is perceived in the rest of the world as a place where due attention is paid to building trust, which is key for data access, use and sharing in a truly functioning Digital Single Market in Healthcare.
Regulation vs Innovation
In more detail, regulation does not have to be a barrier to innovation. It may be smart and take a leaf, for instance, from the notion of ‘privacy by design’: the earlier regulators engage with industry, patients and other stakeholders, the more productive this engagement. In this respect, sandbox experiments whereby regulation is momentarily lifted in a specific location have proved to be very effective at unleashing creativity.
The Commission itself is supporting a bottom-up approach : whether on catering for patients’ wellbeing by developing ‘eHealth Digital Service Infrastructure’ (eHDSI) to enhance cross-border exchange of patient data or by promoting interoperability via a European Electronic Health Record exchange format; enhancing research on three main targets: cancer treatment, rare diseases diagnosis, and prevention of common and complex diseases ; or fostering citizen empowerment and person-centred care, they want to afford every European citizen the same access to the tools that will inform his/her wellbeing and health. The ‘EuropeanHealth Data Space’ aims to promote health-data exchange and to support research on new preventive strategies, while ensuring that citizens have control over their own personal data. A concrete example on where ICT and public health can come together for a direct impact on citizens’ lives would be to make the e-vaccination card a reality across the EU.
The proven merits of a multistakeholder approach
One specific area demonstrates the merits of tight cooperation with Member States. The NHS report ‘Artificial Intelligence: How to get it right’ draws on the ‘deep dives’ recommended by the European Commission-driven High-Level Expert Group on AI in the context of the piloting of the assessment list of guidelines for trustworthy AI. Indeed, the NHS was as result-oriented as the Commission on turning the ten principles of their Code of conduct into a living document likely to tell industry, especially SMEs, ‘how to go about AI’. This challenge is best described as ‘How to generate evidence to prove effectiveness’. We should not let the issue of explainability of algorithms bog us down. AI should actually be seen as ‘just a new tool’ that offers a new perspective on the very old question of how we can bring better health for all.
The path forward
The healthcare industry has already started to grasp the opportunity of big data and emerging technologies like AI and machine learning for improved research and personalized health: digitally-enabled solutions can enhance our knowledge of disease transmission pathways, support chronic disease management and improve patient safety and integrity. But there is a real risk to lose momentum if we fail to step up to this unprecedented challenge. There is also a lack of a common understanding and language of digitalization in healthcare. The sector is actually an entire ecosystem that mixes large corporations with smaller entities, private and public, where again the “sandbox” concept creates a safe place where new innovations can be brought to light and make their way to what remains a highly regulated market. The common ground that all players in this space share – being startups, pharma companies or public institutions – is the ultimate goal of improving health in a transformative patient-centric model. Some countries are already testing successfully new data governance model and public-private partnerships in healthcare.
More precisely, AI4People recommendations were quoted as being one step ahead as regards practical guidance into AI-driven contexts. In the same vein, the NHS template as described in their latest report bears witness to what can be accomplished by action-oriented executives.
Europe has come a long way as to reap the benefits of digitally-enabled health. However, what’s missing is a sense of urgency and a determination to make regulation agile and fit for purpose.
For more information on our Digital in Practice Programme (DiPP)click here.