[A joint blog with my new colleague Tonio Borg]
In Europe we are facing a dilemma: healthcare costs are rising as the public sector faces a spending squeeze. Many older people hold fears over how they will be cared for – while the younger generation worry how they will be able to afford it.
European healthcare has come a long way. There is near universal access to quality care; scientific progress and organised vaccinations have virtually eradicated previously common diseases; and our citizens are enjoying longer lives.
But fundamentally those health systems were designed to deal with a model of acute care, based around stays in hospitals or institutions. That was fine for the 20th century but cracks in the system are beginning to show.
These days, many health conditions are long-term and degenerative. That trend will continue as our population gets older. People with that kind of condition don’t always need the same pattern of care. And they prefer to live independently at home, and avoid constant, time-consuming trips to see the doctor.
So we have to adapt, and digital technology is there to help us change. Whether it’s remote monitoring that lets you be cared for at home, robots to help around the house, or simply mobile apps that empower you to take control of your own healthcare. It’s not science fiction: the solutions already exist, and many of them are “Made in Europe”. They can provide better care at better prices and build an industry for the future.
But there is a leadership gap between “eHealth” technology and patients. The sector has been hesitant to embrace the digital revolution, preferring to stick to traditional methods and models. Politicians have preferred not to upset a system that has worked well in the past.
Launched today, a new European e-Health Action Plan sets out how we can bring digital benefits to healthcare. The slogan is lifting barriers to smarter, safer, patient-centred health services.
And that means giving patients and healthcare workers the skills and confidence to use new technology. It means linking up devices so they can talk to each other, to avoid waste and repetition; investing in research into tomorrow’s personalised medicine. Giving small businesses the support to supply the innovations we need.
As more and more people start to use apps and other devices to take control of their own health information, we must ensure their confidence and trust: by clarifying legal uncertainties over safety, quality and transparency.
But above all, it means biting the bullet and committing to change. It’s happening, but too slowly.
Under our European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing, 3000 stakeholders have committed to improve people’s quality of life, in total directly benefiting 4 million Europeans. This is an unorthodox but useful combination of grassroots and EU action. All of these stakeholders realise that working together is better and cheaper than starting from scratch – bringing them together is the EU’s role. And this grassroots approach means we can learn and grow, quicker than waiting for groups of countries to move forward en bloc.
Part of what makes us European is that we believe we owe it to our citizens to offer everyone the best possible healthcare. Today and tomorrow that means working together to build better lives with eHealth technology.
For more details on the action plan, see here.