28 September 2021

On 28 September 2021, EIF hosted a virtual debate on the ‘Digitalisation of the Health sector’ to discuss the role that the EU can play to support member states and patients, with a special focus on the EU4Health Programme, on the Commission’s strategic approach for e-health and the priorities and challenges for Europe.

The debate, hosted by MEP and EIF Steering Committee member Marina Kaljurand, was moderated by EIF Director General Maria Rosa Gibellini and featured the following experts and policymakers:

  • Cristian-Silviu Busoi MEP and EIF Member, Chair of the ITRE Committee and rapporteur on the EU4Health programme
  • Ioana-Maria Gligor, Head of Unit for European Reference Networks and Digital Health, DG SANTE European Commission (who joined the Q&A session)
  • Wayne Miller, Director, EMEA Healthcare Practice, Zebra Technologies
  • Alexander Volt, Solutions Advisor, Intellectsoft
Digitalisation of the Health Sector

MEP Marina Kaljurand congratulated the EIF for organising such a timely and important debate. Coming from Estonia, where citizens had the privilege of enjoying e-health for almost 20 years, she declares herself proud of her country which is actively participating in the digitalization of the health sector.
The healthcare industry is constantly evolving; nevertheless, for several reasons, the health sector has constantly lagged behind when it comes to capitalizing on technology. The pandemic forced us to rethink some of the steps and deal with weaknesses in the healthcare system, as we had to (and still have to) cope with the dual challenge of a global pandemic and ongoing patients’ needs.

According to the MEP, this truly is a digital healthcare moment: the new EU4Health programme will pave the way to a European Health Union by investing in urgent health priorities. There is the need to strengthen health data, digital tools and services, integrating work among national health systems; this evolution requires a supportive policy framework.
The MEP made the example of the EU Covid certificate and how its interoperability among the member states represents a first step for future cooperation on digital topics and towards digital identity, crucial for creating quality services, a fully functional single market and e-health systems.

Cristian-Silviu Busoi MEP warned the audience about the latest results of the surveys conducted by the European Commission, the OECD and the WTO, showing that there is still unequal access to health services throughout the EU and member states.
There is an urgent need to transform our healthcare systems to be resilient and future-proof meaning patient-centred and outcome-based. The success of digital transformation in health and its enormous beneficial impact on patients, said the MEP, will depend on how much we plan for the next 5-7 years from today.

Even before the Covid-19 outbreak, the European Parliament has been firmly committed to stressing the key value of the digital transformation for health, inviting the European Commission to be ambitious and forward-looking. From the European Commission, said MEP Busoi, we need implementation and guidelines, we need to support the member states in their reforms, and we need to promote the benefits of digital transformation to our citizens and to fight disinformation about new technologies and the use of data.

Wayne Miller focused on the importance of data in the healthcare environment, which needs to be safe, accurate, real-time and secure. A lot of devices are being used to collect and share data: these devices need to be safe and do not interfere with medical equipment; they also need to be cleaned between patients. There is lots of data being collected, with the risk of having a breach and, as a consequence, a comprehensive loss.

Real-time information being shared allows us to respond to the emergency and look at what's in the supply chain. A real-time response can’t be operated unless real time information is being gathered.
Mr. Miller underlined the importance to think long and hard about the types of devices that we use inside the healthcare system. Lots of sensitive and comprehensive information is involved and it needs to be safe, accurate, real-time and secure. We need to think about devices, security, and how we capture real time information.

According to Alexander Volt, the rise in importance of digital health initiatives in our society goes beyond facilitating data collection and streamlining services and operations: it's rather digitalising. The industry allows the creation of a distributed market for data across the EU, maintaining full compliance for confidentiality and data protection rules, potentially making the EU a leader in data-driven health care; this would provide a lot of benefits not only for policy-making and the entire system, but also to citizens and health care professionals.

In order to improve the healthcare sector's effectiveness, it is essential to redistribute the efforts in a way that will allow health to provide maximum added value while largely automating administrative activities.
The right way to address and solve these challenges is through high-level EU leadership, educating all stakeholders, giving them understanding about not only compliance procedures, but also providing full visibility and a clear framework on how to implement these initiatives efficiently in their respective environments.

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