The time to move e-health forward is now as policies on Data Protection and Artificial Intelligence unfold and the negotiations on the new Multiannual Financial Framework for 2021-2027 begin.
Technology is exciting, and we have only seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the opportunities it offers. Digital solutions are increasingly pivotal in Europe and their role in ensuring thriving, future-proof, and sustainable societies is expected to become even more crucial in the coming decades. This is particularly true for the health sector. We all know what Europe’s health systems are up against: financial pressure and the high costs of life-saving medicines, the growing lack of human resources, and the rising burden of chronic diseases against the backdrop of ageing societies. Digital tools can make a difference for health, but only when we decide to be bold about it.
2018 is an important year for digital health and there is strong momentum to move forward. However, if we are serious about reforming European health systems, we need to make sure that digital solutions can flourish. We need to secure funding in the right places, and put in place structures that allow us to use digital tools effectively, for instance to focus scarce resources and realise integrated care.
A few structures have already put in place, and we can build on these. One example is the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which took effect in 2018. The GDPR offers a start in ensuring legal alignment with rapid technological innovation, while it provides greater certainty and transparency around the use of data. It also strengthens patient and consumer confidence.
Another step in the right direction is the recently launched strategy on Artificial Intelligence (AI) for Europe, in which the European Commission outlines its plans to become a leader in AI and to step up investments in AI. At the same time, the European Commission launched a communication on the transformation of health and care on the digital single market.
The communication underscores the need to reduce the existing fragmentation on the European market. One of its key objectives is to facilitate the cross-border exchange of health data for research and health policy, which is an important challenge to tackle. To illustrate, cross-border health exchange could accelerate the diagnosis of rare diseases, and it could help to find tailored treatment for almost 30 million European citizens suffering from a rare disease. The opportunity is there. We now need to be bold enough to effectively use what we have.
How can we achieve this? We need the commitment of European countries to work together and establish a fully-fledged pan-European infrastructure for digital health. Now, as the European institutions are negotiating a new Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) for the 2021-2027 period, is the time to make this happen. We need an investment boost for the new generation of digital infrastructures, to ensure that our healthcare priorities are met with the right tools.
Austria, which will hold the Presidency of the European Council from 1 July to 31 December 2018, will play an important role in the MFF deliberations and intends to take full advantage of the momentum for change. The country is indeed well-placed to move things forward, having invested more than €100 million in a digital infrastructure through which citizens can access their individual health records.
Finally, the ways in which digital solutions can help to make Europe’s health systems more sustainable for the benefit of sustainable will be a strong focus of the discussions at this year’s European Health Forum Gastein (EHFG), which will be held from 3-5 October in Bad Hofgastein, Austria. The EHFG 2018 calls for bold decisions and practical solutions for health, which is exactly what we need with the 2030 deadline to meet the Sustainable Development Goals coming closer. It is time to put our money where our mouth is.
Picture credits: Mārtiņš Zemlickis