Free the data: Investment in healthcare innovation must look beyond money

It was Covid-19 that understandably dominated discussion of the current and future healthcare landscape across the emerging Europe region at EE and the US: Towards 2030, an event held last week in Warsaw and broadcast to the world online.

Leading figures from the region’s healthcare ecosystem took an in-depth look at the impact of the pandemic on both primary care as well as offering insight into what it means for innovation moving forward.

“The coronavirus pandemic has brutally exposed the weaknesses of healthcare systems around the world,” said Mirosław Suszek, operations director at Lux Med, Poland’s largest private healthcare provider. “On the other hand, it has extraordinarily accelerated the adoption of telemedicine. But will this change after the pandemic? A majority of patients would like to continue using virtual care with one condition: they will also retain access to services in clinics. This integrated care model of telemedicine with services in a medical facility is the most preferable by patients and the most efficient for care providers. It has great future.”

Jan-Philipp Beck, the CEO of EIT Health, a network of best-in-class health innovators backed by the EU, believes that Covid-19 will be pivotal to the future of healthcare.

“We will look back on this year as a turning point,” he said. “We will see it as a wake-up call that ensures we are better prepared for the next global health crisis.”

Anna Wójcicka, a board member at Warsaw Genomics, is of the opinion that there is still much to be learnt.

“We were not prepared and we are still not prepared for what is going to happen next,” she said. “We are still in deep chaos. We have learnt a lot but there are still things we do not know. Much is going to have to change.”

Michał Kurzelewski, medical director and IM medical lead Poland at pharmaceutical producer Pfizer said that while the very nature of a crisis is the way that it catches us unprepared, how we react is crucial.

“Looking at the positives, there is now a strong stimulus for innovation. This crisis has revealed just how important science is. It has made heroes out of scientists. What we need to do now is to start looking at how emerging Europe can join the stream of innovation and become a major player on the global stage. This is a great opportunity for Polish scientists to become part of the global solution.”

While it’s increasingly clear that the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated change, innovation and investment in a variety of fields, few sectors have been impacted as much as healthcare.

The way in which healthcare companies quickly had to pivot from day-to-day operations to Covid-19 support is just one example of this. At Warsaw Genome, said Anna Wójcicka, “we switched to Covid-19 testing in one week. If you have good systems in your company it is not that difficult. What was more difficult was integrating into national systems when they are not being well coordinated.”

Michał Kurzelewski believes that cooperation between business and universities will be key moving forward, and that that process has been accelerated by Covid-19: not least when it comes to developing a vaccine.

“Investment in healthcare is crucial, and partnership between the companies who can deliver the solutions, universities and scientists will be decisive. The trick is how to make these partnerships more effective.,” he said.

There was broad agreement between the four speakers that access to good data has to be improved. EIT Health’s Jan-Philipp Beck was blunt in his assessment that “Europe will not be able to catch up with the US without access to good data. Europe needs GDPR 2.0.”

“Take artificial intelligence (AI) as an example: Europe still has the chance to exercise leadership. But if we don’t act fast on the data side then we will lose that opportunity. A lot of AI-enabled solutions are often developed in the US because it’s easier to get hold of the data.”

As Mirosław Suszek set out his vision for healthcare in 2030, it became increasingly clear that data was key:

“Patients fill out contextual e-forms before a visit to a clinic or hospital. Based on the collected data and medical records patients are navigated to the right solution, at the right time and at the right place – in a medical facility or remotely, at home. There is less waste of unnecessary visits and medical procedures.”

Cutting down on unnecessary visits and procedures is at the core of what has been dubbed value-based healthcare (VBHC).

The VBHC movement is based on the work of Harvard University Professor Michael Porter, whose landmark book, Redefining Health Care Creating Value-Based Competition on Results, co-authored with Elizabeth O. Teisberg, was published in 2006 following 10 years of research into why the healthcare industry did not conform to the principles of competition seen in all other sectors of the economy.

Since then, value-based healthcare has quickly become one of the most important topics in healthcare transformation. Value-based approaches to organising healthcare delivery are widely touted as critical to improving the health outcomes of patients worldwide and controlling costs. Value-based healthcare’s central tenet is that value for patients must be the overarching principle in the organisation and management of healthcare delivery systems. Value is defined as the outcomes that matter to patients and the costs to achieve those outcomes.

But as Jan-Philipp Beck pointed out, like many potential healthcare innovations it needs good data.

”When we look at the potential of digital healthcare, by improving remote diagnosis we will be able to reach better outcomes for patients, but for that data is important,” he said.

Michał Kurzelewski concurs: “The more care that can be delivered at home, the safer it will be for both doctors and patients.”

Anna Wójcicka was keen to point out however that there will always be a role for physical examinations: “these are essential,” she said.

The last word went to Mirosław Suszek. “What we need to do is find the right spot for digital medicine. Healthcare is complex.”

The Covid-19 pandemic has not yet passed – far from it. But the mood of the medical community is one of optimism. It has given a boost to innovation, and has provided all stakeholders with a reminder that there can never be enough investment in healthcare, that even the best-funded systems can face collapse during a time of crisis. But equally important is that we view investment as not merely being about money: it’s also about sharing data, collaboration, and partnerships.

Last week’s discussion was a clear signal that the healthcare community understands this: perhaps even more than any other field impacted by Covid-19.

You can watch the full discussion here.

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