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Let’s Make Digital Health Great Again! - ICT&health

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Let’s Make Digital Health Great Again!

The promise of digital health in Europe is undeniable. But to make this promise a reality, it is necessary to break down several barriers to make digital health technologies available, affordable and acceptable – that’s one of the conclusions from the report “Make Health Great Again – Recommendations by the Next Generation”.

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One of the recommendations is focused on robotics, AI and precision medicine. We have interviewed Joep Roet (the Chair of the Robotics, AI & Precision Medicine Committee of the 3rd edition of the European Health Parliament) and Lila Stavropoulou (a member of the Health Workforce Planning Committee of the 3rd Edition of the European Health Parliament).

55 young professionals were selected and split into 5 committees to tackle 5 key healthcare topics chosen in partnership with the European Commission and European Parliament. One of them is “Robotics, AI & Precision Medicine”. What are the key findings in this area?

Joep Roet: As a committee we quickly realized that advancements in our field succeed each other extremely quickly and that the promise of these technologies is amazing (e.g. automated clinical decision support, long-distance surgery, patient feedback). At the same time, a lot of these promises remain just that: visions of the future. Whether the digital transformation of health succeeds depends on how we embrace it in the years to come.

That is why we focused on the European policy environment. What can the EU do now to enable access to these innovations in the future? In our view, that can only happen if digital health is available, affordable and acceptable to all European citizens. We therefore recommend the creation of a Connected European Health Area, establishing a fund for the necessary investment, promoting pilot projects, developing appropriate reimbursement models, helping HCPs prepare by updating clinical guidelines and so on.

Technology has a positive impact on healthcare and innovations like health apps, wearables or AI are already changing the health ecosystem. What should we do to make “health great” in a time of disruptive technology?

Lila Stavropoulou: Technology is offering us the opportunity for a better healthcare system -however, technology is just a tool; it may be used for good or ill if we are not able to understand its true potential. Technology is also forcing us to focus on the people; the workers who are using these technological tools for our benefit and to make “health great”.  In order to help health workers to benefit from digitalization, it is necessary to include digital skills along with soft and multidisciplinary skills in undergraduate training programs. Moreover, creating a positive perception towards these skills will considerably influence the efficacy of the digitalization of health by both patients and healthcare professionals.

Digital health has incredible potential, but this is meaningless if it is not widely accepted

The committee on outcomes-based healthcare took note of the importance of measuring not only inputs (e.g. healthcare spending), processes (e.g. blood pressure checks), outputs (e.g. blood results) but also outcomes (e.g. preserving the quality of life, reduced pain) which matter most to patients. How can digital healthcare help?

Joep Roet: Digital healthcare technologies play an incredibly important role in outcomes-based healthcare. Measuring outcomes produces swathes of data. It is impossible to analyze that data without the appropriate tools.

I personally believe that our healthcare systems are moving away from the current product-oriented model to a mixed services/outcome model. By that I mean that for the past decennia, our health systems have reimbursed products when the patient is ill and in need of treatment, often drugs. In the future we will reimburse only products that work (the outcomes-part). We will also reimburse services that aid health promotion and disease prevention before the patient is ill (the services part). Both components rely on data to be effective. Digital healthcare technologies provide that data.

How important for the strengthening of healthcare systems is digitalization and where would you place it among other challenges?

Joep Roet: It is incredibly important. But I wouldn’t consider digitalization a challenge. Our healthcare systems are under immense pressure: our population is ageing, epidemiologies are changing, patients are demanding involvement (rightly so) and on top of that new technologies are appearing. All of this affects health spending. These are the challenges we’re facing.

In my view, digitalization is a tool that can help address these challenges. It is already boosting research (think of precision medicine). It increasingly supports diagnosis and optimizes treatment decisions, producing better outcomes for patients. Apps and wearables can also help people to get out of their chairs and start moving, thereby boosting prevention.

Of course, we’re not there yet and digitalizing our health systems will require significant efforts. That is why we recommend the creation of a Connected European Health Area and an accompanying Digital Health Investment Fund.

I also want to stress that digitalization is a tool. It is not a goal. The goal of any health system is to keep people healthy.

What are your 5 most important recommendations from the book?

Joep Roet: That is really difficult to say because each committee addressed such different topics, each at a very different level of specificity. For instance, the AMR committee worked on the implementation of the EU AMR Action Plan, which was already adopted in 2017. Whereas the outcomes-based healthcare committee and my own Robotics, AI & Precision medicine committee are more future-oriented.

For us it is the creation of the Connected European Health Data, or the infrastructure to connect healthcare data across Europe to advance research, disease prevention, treatment and personalized healthcare. It includes both physical aspects (e.g. fast internet) and human capital (technical skills & know-how). In order to achieve better outcomes-based healthcare, I believe that it would be productive to set up common core indicators (including patient outcomes data) for Health Systems Assessment Frameworks to run benchmark assessments.

 

Download the full report “Make Health Great Again: Recommendations by the Next Generation” here.

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