Serious EU coordination is needed for Europe to benefit from and lead healthcare innovation
What is the state of health innovation in Europe, and how can upcoming health policies accelerate it? On 22 March, DIGITALEUROPE’s Executive Council for Health met with representatives from the French and Dutch governments, and cancer patient associations, for a roundtable discussion on how Europe can put in place the right environment to accelerate digital health innovation.
During the roundtable, the Council presented DIGITALEUROPE’s new report “A digital health decade: driving innovation in Europe”, which follows our first publication on building trust for the European Health Data Space (EHDS), launched on 7 April, on World Health Day.
“Governance and trust cannot be solved by individual member states,” noted Ron Roozendaal, Director of Information Policy and CIO at the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, and eHealth Network co-chair, “only through cooperation with each other and with patients, healthcare practitioners, innovators, and internationally. not compete on standards by working alone”.
Isabelle Zablit-Schmitz, eHealth Europe & International Director at the French Ministry of Health, echoed the importance of harmonising efforts to ensure life-saving digital health solutions get more widely adopted. “A digital single market approach means two things, to move forward: collectively adopt common standards and ensure we facilitate market access for digital health solutions” she said.
Discussing the requirements for stronger and innovative European health systems
Cecilia Bonefeld-Dahl, Director-General of DIGITALEUROPE, and Francesco Buonarroti, Chair of the Executive Council for Health and Vice-President at Johnson & Johnson, introduced three key areas for digital health innovation that are particularly promising for Europe, as outlined in the report: connected health technologies, precision medicine, and digital twins.
Powered by data and digital, these areas are essential to achieve Europe’s goals for better healthcare: improved clinician and patient experience, better outcomes, and lower costs.
Success, however, will depend on three key conditions: channelling investments, promoting health data flows, and enabling health technologies to be adopted at scale.
Participants discussed that we should not let lessons learned from the pandemic go to waste. Digital technologies are not the end in itself, they are means to delivering better healthcare for all Europeans. EU-wide collaboration has proven to be an agile instrument, in times of need, for improving health in each Member State, thanks to involving everyone having a stake (citizens, professionals, industry, etc.). Finally, EU countries should collaborate, rather than competing, on standards and interoperability, and this needs to be consolidated through a solid framework that can bring greater clarity and transparency.
The French Presidency, currently leading the digital health discussion, is focusing on two pillars: European principles for ethics in digital health, which will be a prerequisite for the success of the EHDS, and the digital single market, by inviting Member States to adopt common standards and facilitate market access for digital health products and services.
How will digital innovation improve healthcare?
During the discussions, it was noted how certain technologies (either already mature, or being developed right now) will power Europe’s digital health decade, but in order to fulfil this potential, some major challenges stand in the way.
- Digital twins are a major opportunity to innovate healthcare. However, a “digital twin vision for health” is still missing in Europe, which can help focus on applications where the most value for patients can be delivered.
- Innovation and decentralisation of clinical trials can lead to richer data sources and insights, but also increase participation of patients. Clinical trials in Europe have traditionally been limited in size, representation and diversity, and new digital solutions such as wearables or telemedicine can help overcome existing barriers.
- Precision medicine using genomic data has great potential in preventing diseases and developing medicines more likely to succeed, by better understanding a patient’s precise condition and hereditary background.
- Cloud is integral to the future of data sharing governance and can bring democratisation to data use.
- Access to data across borders can bring enormous benefits to how healthcare professionals and healthcare systems can improve care. Healthcare professionals should become proponents of the use of data, as ‘champions’.
We need to build skills and talents to make sure patients are empowered to control their data and use digital health solutions, and healthcare providers can benefit from innovations to make their work easier and free up time for patient care. It’s also vital that regulators be upskilled too.
What does it mean for a patient to have precision medicine? Why is it important to have data flows across borders? How can digital twins avoid failed operations? How can we get rid of ethical dilemmas in control arms in clinical trials?
In our new report, we identify the ten areas of digital health innovation, in order of maturity, where Europe has the chance of having the most impact.
What are the health policies encouraging innovation?
When turning to which policies will favour an innovative environment for the development of health technologies in Europe, a few areas were identified by all participants as crucial:
- Data protection regulations should be carefully balanced with the use of data for better healthcare. We need harmonised interpretation of GDPR across European countries.
- Similarly, a more harmonised regulatory and data landscape can lift burdens and roadblocks for health innovators, who currently have to comply with different frameworks and lack a single health data access point for R&D and validation.
- Member States must ensure a robust EHDS that can remove fragmentation and ensure coordination to drive digital transformation forward. This in turn will ensure important investment to support said transformation. Both Member States and industry should take responsibility to collaborate on this endeavour.
- The EHDS should also encourage greater coordination at the EU level, and its governance should facilitate adoption of health technologies at scale. Its implementation should foresee simplified administration, which involves understanding what the barriers for industry are.
What is needed to get the EHDS right? How can we effectively invest in the digital transformation of health systems? How can we develop robust and harmonised frameworks for health data flows internationally?
In our new report, we define key checkpoints on the roadmap to drive digital innovations in Europe.
How can we shape more accessible healthcare with patients at its core?
Studies show that patients are more than willing to use digital technologies for managing their health, provided these are developed with their needs at the core. Health NGOs representatives Mike Morrisey (Chief Executive at the European Cancer Organisation), Wendy Jared (Director of European Cancer Leagues) and Eduardo Pisani (CEO of All.Can) highlighted the importance of trust and digital literacy to make the transformation of health a success.
- Patients’ trust and buy-in are key. This can happen by empowering patients to access and control their data and by raising awareness of the tangible benefits of health data use, re-use, and digital health innovation. Stronger cybersecurity was also highlighted as a tool to increase patients’ trust in health data sharing.
- Access to digital services, within and across Member States, and digital literacy must be addressed. Tackling inequalities should be seen as another goal for Europe’s healthcare.
- Prevention was also identified as a priority to be addressed through digital health innovation.
- The ethical principles developed by the French Presidency are considered as a prerequisite for the success of the European Health Data Space.
- Data collected should represent what matters most to patients in terms of outcomes and experience to drive better, more patient-centric delivery of care.
How do we equip the healthcare workforce with digital skills? What is needed to help healthcare organisations to deliver better, safer and more reliable patient care? How can we enable scalability of health technology to increase patient access to innovation?
In our report, we look at the enablers for more accessible and patient-centred innovation.
DIGITALEUROPE’s work on digital for health
This roundtable was organised by DIGITALEUROPE’s Executive Council for Health to hear and incorporate feedback on our new publication “A digital health decade: driving innovation in Europe”, launched on 7 April.
The report identifies promising health technologies on which Europe could take the lead and offers a concrete policy roadmap to unlock their potential, through investment, data flows and scaled technology adoption.
This is the second publication from the Council for Health, which brings together 20 senior executives from leading healthcare and technology companies, all DIGITALEUROPE members, to bridge the gap between business and policy. Drawing on the executives’ expertise, the Council shares concrete examples, actionable plans and thought leadership to advance the digital transformation of the EU’s healthcare systems.
The first publication, “A digital health decade: 4 pillars for a trusted and collaborative health data space”, was released in November 2021. It set out an inclusive discussion on trust, equitability, and ethical implications of health data sharing and use, with patients at its centre. To this end, the paper identified success indicators and four pillars:
- Demonstrating benefits for all health communities.
- A secure and interoperable infrastructure.
- Leveraging existing health data sharing successes.
- Patient-centric services throughout Europe.