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26 Oct 2023
by Alex Lawrence

Europe's Digital Health and Care Outlook: Insights from the Politico Health Summit

The 2023 Politico Health Summit explored critical issues on the status of health policy in Europe. Although the techUK Health & Social Care Programme focuses on working with the NHS and social care providers in the UK, it is vital to understand Europe’s position on innovation and digital care.

The Summit this year was titled ‘From pandemic to permacrisis? Europe’s next health care challenge’, and explored issues around medicines shortages, workforce crises, drug affordability, supply changes, and demographic shifts.  

Among the most relevant topics for techUK were panels looking at whether we need a Hippocratic Oath for AI and exploring the European Health Data Space (EHDS). As the UK’s network of Secure Data Environments evolves, keeping one eye on the EU approach is key.  

Ten Takeaways:

  1. Shift in Attention: One noticeable theme of the event was the observation that, following a peak in interest during and immediately following the pandemic, attention is now turning away from health policy in Europe.
  2. Policy for Progress: Implementing healthtech solutions requires forward-thinking policy solutions. It's crucial for European nations to develop policies that encourage innovation, protect patient data, and ensure accessibility to digital health tools.
  3. Prevention Over Cure: There is a growing emphasis on shifting from a "sick care" model to one that prioritises prevention. Similar to discussions in the UK, there were many references to the need to promote healthy living and proactive measures to reduce the burden on healthcare systems.
  4. Climate Concerns: The impact of climate change on health and the carbon emissions contributed by the healthcare sector were recurring topics of discussion.
  5. Leadership and Pandemic Preparedness: Jeremy Farrar of the World Health Organization stressed that we emerge from difficult situations not by chance but through brave leadership decisions. He emphasised that the best preparation for the next pandemic is to ensure that current health systems function optimally, thereby building public trust.
  6. Joint Procurement of Medicines: Discussions highlighted the need to improve access to innovative medicines and explored the potential for expanding the joint procurement used during the pandemic with COVID-19 vaccines.  
  7. AI and Ethics: The question of whether Europe needs a Hippocratic oath for AI was raised. The World Health Organization has provided guidance on this issue, stressing the importance of regulator capacity, transparency in data usage, and aligning with established principles of regulating medicines and devices.
  8. Digital Health Partnerships: The setup of a Strategic Digital Health Partnership Initiative, seeking to address the interaction between GDPR, the European Health Data Space (EHDS), and the AI Act, providing a more coherent framework for digital health.
  9. Medical Data: The room to tailor or ‘side-step’ elements of GDPR within individual member states was discussed in the context of the new EHDS, which aims to reduce fragmentation and promote research within the EU. The debate over an "opt-in" versus "opt-out" approach for patients was heated.
  10. Collaboration: Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) emphasised the importance of building consensus to achieve long-term reform, highlighting the need to garner support from both health and finance ministers. Anticipating a potential reduction in the health budget, they stressed the need for cross-party and cross-government alignment.

The Politico Health Summit shed light on Europe's journey in embracing digital health and care. While the challenges are evident, the discussions reveal a commitment to innovation, improved policy, ethical AI, and addressing critical issues like climate change. Like the UK, Europe is at a pivotal moment, and these insights offer a roadmap for a healthier, more tech-savvy future.

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With health and care systems around the globe facing increasing pressures, the use of digital technology has never been more important. Supporting a vibrant ecosystem with the potential to become a world leader, techUK is helping its members navigate the complex space of digital health and care in the UK and ensure our NHS is prepared for the challenges of the future.

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Alex Lawrence

Alex Lawrence

Programme Manager, Health and Social Care, techUK