What will EU4Health bring to digital innovation?
The ambitious EU4Health programme aims to advance the digital transformation of healthcare. We see enormous potential for digital health startups to play a key role in this process. Startups are developing AI applications in healthcare, telehealth platforms and digital therapeutics – areas that are predicted to develop and grow exponentially in the coming years.
What is EU4Health and what can it bring to the European healthcare ecosystem?
Last week, the European Parliament adopted its position on EU4Health, the largest stand-alone health programme in the EU. The programme, proposed as a response to COVID-19, aims to facilitate the measures and investments needed to strengthen health care systems, improve EU preparedness for cross-border health threats, and promote digital innovation.
EU4Health will provide funding to EU countries, health organisations and NGOs in the forms of grants, prizes and procurement, and through indirect management by the EC and EU executive agencies. The funding for EU4Health stands at €5.1 billion.
MEP Cristian-Silviu Buşoi, rapporteur on EU4Health noted that the programme would be more than a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It will also focus on tackling long-term challenges such as cancer and mental health.
Promoting the digital transformation of health systems in the EU was a priority for both the European Commission and the European Parliament. This concerns two main areas: support for the development and implementation of a European Health Data Space (EHDS) and the adoption of digital tools and technologies.
European Health Data Space
Digital health startup founders described harmonising regulatory frameworks for the use and access of health data, developing interoperability and common standards for electronic health records and the adoption of cross-border ePrescriptions as some of the key priorities for startups to thrive.
A European Health Data Space is one of the building blocks of a stronger Health Union. It aims to promote better exchange and access to different types of health data, including secondary data for research and innovation. The priorities include harmonising the regulatory frameworks for the use of health data, ensuring interoperability between different infrastructures and systems, and enhancing cross-border initiatives such as eHealth Digital Services infrastructure and European Reference networks.
In a high-level conference last week, European Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said EHDS would support the movement of digital health services and empower citizens to access digital healthcare. Commissioner Thierry Breton noted that the use and re-use of health data was critical for an innovative and competitive health sector.
The uptake of digital health solutions
The EU4Health programme focuses on the digitisation of healthcare through the adoption of digital tools and technologies. According to the position adopted by the Parliament, the programme should facilitate the uptake, scaling-up and deployment of health innovation and technologies in healthcare systems and clinical practice. Programme’s proposed actions also include the support for the uptake and interoperability of digital tools and infrastructure, digital upskilling of health professionals, increasing the use of telehealth/telemedicine and promoting tools that support citizen empowerment and person-centred care.
These plans could improve the acceptance of digital health solutions by health care providers. Digital health entrepreneurs also stress the need to support health care providers in this process as many public health facilities lack the resources for this and operate with obsolete digital infrastructure that is not easy to integrate. Supporting health care providers in the adoption of digital solutions helps startups scale their innovation.
It remains a question of how the programme would achieve the aim of increasing the use of telehealth and telemedicine. Startups still face legal uncertainty and fragmentation. For example, in some countries, remote diagnosis is not permitted or on par reimbursement is not available. In others, patients and doctors benefit from laws that encourage the use of telemedicine solutions. EU initiatives should aim at harmonising the rules around the use of telemedicine across Europe.
Overall, we believe the EU4Health programme has significant potential to advance the digital transformation of Europe. To achieve this, we encourage the policy makers to talk to digital health entrepreneurs, tap into the potential of startup innovation and provide clear pathways for digital health startups to contribute in building resilient, digital and patient-centred health care systems in Europe.