European Health Data Space: A Catalyst For Health Innovation?

May 29, 2020

Why is data important for public health and innovation?

The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified the discussions around health data sharing in Europe and beyond. Tracing the spread of the pandemic, identifying hotspots and vulnerable communities, discovering potential treatments and monitoring the patients involves the collection and exchange of health data. It requires digital solutions that often use artificial intelligence and data analytics tools to employ this data in the most user-friendly and efficient way.

Data access, collection, sharing are vital to innovation in health care in many other areas. Data analysis tools are being used to find life-saving treatments for cancer patients. The use of genomic information helps to better predict, prevent and treat diseases. Digital health platforms which utilise and analyse health data enable doctors and scientists to make better and faster decisions. On an individual level, a variety of apps that combine health data sets with personal user input empowers people to track their health & well-being and make better-informed decisions about their health and lifestyle.

Startups are providing some of the most innovative solutions using health data sets as a resource. For example, a Danish startup Corti.ai developed AI technology that has the potential to save thousands of people from cardiac arrest. The technology is 93% accurate in identifying cardiac arrests during emergency calls. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Corti has adapted its technology to help curb the transmission, monitor infected patients at home, map the spread of infection and reduce the risk when triaging patients. Corti leverages technology which uses machine learning to analyse patients’ symptoms by listening to a large number of patient interviews. This is one of the many examples demonstrating the importance of data for digital health innovation.

Problems and solutions

One of the main problems that prevent a broader and more effective use and exchange of data in healthcare is the fragmentation of data collection, access and sharing. Health data is often drawn from single sources, lacking the interoperability and common standards that would enable the use of this data across different countries and developers of digital health solutions. Lack of common standards and effective systems that facilitate the use and sharing of secondary health data prevent a deeper cross-border health collaboration amongst health care systems. This, in turn, prevents the full potential of cutting-edge digital health technologies and solutions to develop. Moreover, many different national rules make health data sharing across borders difficult.

There are promising EU-level initiatives to address this gap. Earlier this year, the European Commission released A European Strategy for Data, which outlines the establishment of a European Health Data Space (EHDS) as one of the priorities. It follows a communication on enabling the digital transformation on health and care, which put forward 3 priority areas relevant to the establishment of EHDS and a set of actions to attain it:

  • Citizens’ access and sharing of health data across borders
  • Better data to advance research, disease prevention and personalised health and care
  • Digital tools and data for citizen empowerment and person-centred healthcare

Startup Perspective

At Allied for Startups, we believe that these initiatives have the potential to be a meaningful catalyst for cross-border health care innovation. In particular, digital health startups could benefit from measures that improve access to data, enable the secondary use of health data for research and innovation, and facilitate cross-border interoperability of health data and electronic health records.

It is also essential to ensure that new mechanisms are easy to access and understandable for startups. While digital health startups are highly innovative and adaptable actors which seek to be compliant from day one, they are also smaller economic players. Navigating complex regulations, such as GDPR, the Medical Device Regulation and upcoming rules on Artificial Intelligence require additional resources which could otherwise be directed towards innovation.

Therefore, we encourage the designers of the new plans and actions for the European Health Data Space to consider the interconnected nature of rules around privacy, AI, medical devices and how it applies to digital health solutions. Providing a clear pathway will allow startups to contribute and benefit from the EHDS as they develop user-centric innovative health solutions and scale across Europe.