#EAPM – Regional backing for Commission plans on digital transformation in health care

| September 20, 2018


A recent communication from the European Commission on enabling the digital transformation of health and care in the Digital Single Market – empowering citizens and building a healthier society, has received a positive response from the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC),
writes European Alliance for Personalised Medicine (EAPM) Executive Director Denis Horgan. 

The Commission’s plan is to promote health, prevent and fight diseases, help respond to unmet patient needs and make it easier for citizens to have equal access to high-quality care through appropriate use of digital innovations and social economy.

The European Committee of the Regions has backed this (please see link), , as has the Brussels-based European Alliance for Personalised Medicine (EAPM) which is constantly in contact with the committee due to EAPM’s long-standing goal to ensure that innovation is embedded into the EU’s health-care systems at the earliest opportunity.

The Alliance has long campaigned for a regulatory and policy framework to support these goals.   While working towards enhanced EU cooperation in health care, especially through digital technology and data sharing, the Alliance this year got the backing of 16 member states for an idea it originally floated as ‘MEGA’ or the Million European Genomes Alliance.

As the name suggests, key to this is a one-million European genomes target, with the signatories agreeing to work together “towards building a research cohort of at least one million genomes accessible in the EU by 2022”.

As well as the over-arching member states, the project already has the support of several regions who are part of the countries which signed the original Declaration, and the regions’ representative body has given its stamp of approval – a key goal of EAPM’s policy engagement.

Therefore, the political framework is all ready in place to move the project forward. However, as the EESC puts it, “even when they are available, health data are often tied to technologies that are not interoperable, which is an obstacle to their wide use… the use of patient-centred health data is not yet sufficiently developed in the EU”.  All parties are constantly working to solve this major issue.

Like the EESC, EAPM believes that health and care in Europe needs to be made sustainable – a difficult task given an ageing population and cash-strapped healthcare systems – and a key driver of this will be the impact of digital technology to transform health and care in respect of citizens, social systems and service providers.  Data sharing is vital to aid health research and, not surprisingly, the EESC said that: “Citizens should have the right to access their health data. They decide if and when to share their data.”

Again, hand-in-hand with previous EAPM statements, the EESC is of the belief that digital tools – eHealth, in effect – empower citizens to look after their health. They stimulate prevention and enable feedback and interaction between users and healthcare providers.

This should lower the amount of time people spend in doctor’s surgeries and hospitals, thus lessening the cost burden on over-stretched systems.  The EESC believes that equal access to healthcare can benefit from digital support provided there is: equal geographical coverage; a bridge in the digital divide in terms of use by the public, health professionals and stakeholders in health insurance schemes; interoperability between databases, medical devices and more; ethical protection of health data, and; electronic distribution of product information approved by drug licensing authorities to improve access.

On top of this, the EESC identified three main priorities which are focusing on citizens’ secure access to their health data (including across borders), enhancing personalised medicine through shared European data infrastructure, and citizen empowerment with digital tools for user feedback and person-centred care.  It has concluded that in the course of the changes generated by digital transformation, people must be at the centre of care and says that the digitalisation processes must help healthcare professionals to spend more time with patients.

The proviso here is that the healthcare arena “must be staffed with qualified personnel and equipped with appropriate digital skills”. Furthermore, the EESC believes that digitalisation processes “are not to be misinterpreted as a savings package for healthcare budgets” and must not lead to cuts in personnel cuts or services.

It goes on to point out that digitization can also help promote health and prevent diseases and support the reform of health systems and their transition to new patterns of care, based on people’s needs, while allowing a shift from systems focused on hospitals to integrated and more community-based welfare facilities.   The committee of course notes that Member States are responsible for the organisation and provision of health and social care, but states that under the directive on patients’ rights in cross-border healthcare, an online eHealth network “must be set up to advance the interoperability of eHealth solutions”.

Health literacy comes under the EESC’s microscope (as it long has with EAPM) and both parties as well as the Commission believe that health literacy in this context relates to a person’s ability to acquire, understand and use information responsibly to promote their well-being and stay healthy.

Allied to this is the fact that Europe is seeing a growth in non-communicable preventable diseases caused by risk factors such as tobacco, alcohol and obesity. Meanwhile other diseases are proliferating, such as neurodegenerative and rare diseases, while  infectious diseases pose a growing threat due to increased resistance to antibiotics and new or re-emerging pathogens.

The Commission has championed joint clinical assessments, joint scientific consultations, identification of emerging health technologies and voluntary cooperation among member states, and these are all backed by the EESC and EAPM.  SMEs will have a key role to play an making the most of digital transformation in patient-centric health care and both organizations have acknowledged this.

Finally, the EESC points out that to take advantage of new technology, “EU networks and planned support measures should use digital tools to implement and reinforce, not to weaken” fundamental rights in respect of health and care.   The Commission and EAPM are in full accord with the EESC viewpoints as outlined above and the Alliance further believes that work on transforming healthcare with powerful new tools must be redoubled.

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Category: A Frontpage, EU, European Alliance for Personalised Medicine, Health, Personalised medicine

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