New DIGITALEUROPE report shows that Europe can be a global leader on health innovation if it removes barriers
On World Health Day, DIGITALEUROPE has released a new report identifying two main roadblocks to developing and scaling life-saving health technologies in Europe: the lack of a framework for health data flows and a fragmented market for digital health.
By removing these barriers, the report shows, Europe can have a bigger say in global health innovation and steer new health technologies in line with European values and patients’ needs.
Policymakers have been divided in matters of public health, traditionally a competence of Member States, but there is growing pressure on the EU to take the lead. We see this paralysis again in the continuous delays of the European Health Data Space – a key tool to ensure widespread adoption of health technologies.
To overcome this, the EU and Member States must finally agree on a harmonised policy framework, invest in the digital transformation of health, and remove barriers to growth.
“Making sure everyone has access to better healthcare thanks to digital solutions is a matter of life or death for many: four million Europeans are diagnosed with cancer every year and almost two million people have died in Europe because of COVID.
Many promising digital health technologies are being developed right now… outside of Europe. The question is, will Europe take the lead, or will we be increasingly dependent on innovations coming from non-European labs?
Too many health innovators are forced to grow outside of Europe, because they do not have access to the health data they need to develop, test and validate their pioneering products and services. On top of that, they must navigate 27 different frameworks to see their innovations adopted at scale. If we don’t remove these barriers, we will miss out on life-saving technologies tailored to the needs of Europeans, such as health AI, and we will deny patients greater control on their data.”
Three digital health areas Europe can steer
Europe is home to some of the best healthcare systems in the world, and showed it can set up ambitious frameworks for the secure use of health data, be it through world-beating data protection rules with the GDPR or the first large-scale, cross-border health data infrastructure with the EU Digital COVID Certificate. The next milestone will be the European Health Data Space. By building on and harmonising these initiatives, Europe can become a global leader in three main areas that are particularly promising for Europeans:
Connected health. Hospitals and practitioners are struggling to accommodate all their patients, especially in the aftermath of COVID. Connected technologies, such as telehealth and connected wearable devices help increase access to healthcare in medical deserts and promote prevention at the individual and population level.
Digital twins. Treatments, drugs and invasive surgeries can be tested virtually, meaning faster, safer development of therapies, and better patient outcomes. Simulations in drug delivery have shown a 90% increase in accuracy, almost five times more than conventional methods.
Three conditions for health innovation to happen in Europe
Health policy in Europe has mostly been creating ad-hoc responses in times of crisis. To steer development of health technologies in Europe, both EU and national policymakers need to shift towards a proactive, long-term vision to strengthen our health systems. This requires three conditions:
Increase long-term investments in digital health, by monitoring specific EU and national spending targets to build the EHDS and boost e-health skills;
Promotehealth data flows through a robust governance framework (starting from the EHDS), harmonised GDPR implementation, and converging health data standards;
Enable health technologies to be adopted at scale by harmonising the Single Market for health products and services and agreeing on consistent artificial intelligence rules that do not paralyse robust health AI development in Europe.