State of the Union address: 3 takeaways for digital health

September 24, 2020
EP Plenary session

The President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen held her State of the Union address last week, presenting the priorities for the coming year. Von der Leyen called for building a stronger European Health Union, with a robust EU4Health programme, and ignited the debate on increasing the EU’s health competence. She also emphasised the need for common data spaces and rules for AI – areas that are especially relevant to digital health startups. 

In our last week’s newsletter, we covered the policy aspects of the speech that are important for startups. Today we are deep-diving into what the State of the Union means for digital health startups: 

On data. “We need common data spaces – for example, in the energy or healthcare sectors. This will support innovation ecosystems in which universities, companies and researchers can access and collaborate on data.” 

A common European Health Data Space, outlined in A European Strategy for Data, has the potential to be a catalyst for health innovation. Startups and innovators employ health data to develop life-saving solutions, prevent diseases, and support doctors in making faster and more precise decisions. 

However, health data is often drawn from single sources, lacking the interoperability and common standards that would enable its use across countries and developers of digital health solutions. Moreover, efforts are needed to unlock secondary data from the public sector and enable citizens to access and share their data for research purposes.

We encourage the Commission to provide a clear pathway that would allow startups to contribute and benefit from the future European Health Data Space.

On Artificial Intelligence. “Whether it’s precision farming in agriculture, more accurate medical diagnosis or safe autonomous driving – artificial intelligence will open up new worlds for us. But this world also needs rules.”

Digital health startups use artificial intelligence to develop cutting-edge patient-centric solutions. Startups like Corti.ai pivoted to use their AI software to tackle COVID-19. Velmio has built AI-driven tools to connect digital health records, wearables and telemedicine. 

A White Paper on Artificial Intelligence, released by the Commision earlier this year, outlined the proposals for the rules on AI. It raises some questions for digital health startups: according to the proposals, their startups would be classified as high-risk since they operate in the health space. This could entail ex-ante conformity checks and new obligations for liability.

At Allied for Startups, we think that digital health startups should have a clear perspective to scale up, and legislative requirements should be clear and understandable. We advocate for a startup-friendly approach to AI and share the concerns of digital health startups with European policy makers.

Stronger Health Union. “For me, it is crystal clear – we need to build a stronger European Health Union.”

We couldn’t agree more! The ambition is great, now is the time to walk the talk. Digital health startups describe the fragmentation of healthcare regulations as one of the biggest barriers to scaling up. More harmonisation at the EU level can help reduce market fragmentation in healthcare, reduce costs and increase the overall healthcare quality. 

Likewise, digital health startups see the value in all European initiatives that enhance cross- border cooperation and healthcare access. For example, the eHealth Digital Service Infrastructure which will allow e-prescriptions and patient summaries to be exchanged between healthcare providers and pharmacies across borders. 

We also welcome Von der Leyen’s call to remedy the cuts made to EU4Health programme. The programme’s areas of action include supporting the digital transformation of health care systems across the EU. This has the potential to accelerate the digital infrastructure of public systems and the adoption of digital health solutions by the health care providers. 


From tackling COVID-19 to developing accessible telemedicine solutions, startups have been at the forefront of innovation during this crisis. We encourage the European Commission to design AI legislation for startups and develop a common European Health Data space so that startups can support health care systems and patients.


Picture: © European Union 2020 – Source : EP / Daina Le Lardic