Innovation in health and social care

John Bowis OBE, Honorary President of Health First Europe and former Member of the European Parliament, outlines how healthcare innovations are a key instrument to achieving sustainable healthcare solutions…

“Health care providers are currently faced with an extremely complex challenge characterised by rising demand, increasing cost and insufficient funding. In light of this, European health systems must consider innovation as a key instrument in achieving sustainable and efficient solutions, while respecting the fundamental values of universality, equity, solidarity and delivery of high quality, effective and safe health services”1. With this call for action – addressed to the European and National policy makers – the Expert Panel on Effective ways of investing opened its Final Opinion on Disruptive Innovation published in April 2016.

Patient’s expectation for cost-effective innovation

EU health systems are constantly confronted new challenges such as an ageing population, rising expectations of citizens, and the mobility of patients and health professionals. Moreover, in recent years, the economic crisis has limited the financial resources available and thus aggravated Member States’ difficulties in ensuring their health systems’ sustainability.

There is a need to look at the economics of public health expenditure, particularly how to reduce waste in health spending. Modern health systems need to be resilient: they must be able to adapt effectively to changing environments, tackling significant challenges with limited resources. Expenditure is a reflection of both affordability and preferences – which makes measuring innovation very difficult. I believe that any national reform should put the patient at the center and focus on better use of resources. We need to work more and together to provide citizens with the best quality healthcare, taking full advantage of the new technological innovations in the sector without compromising the healthcare national budgets.

As any patient in Europe, I have seen how technological innovations have added value to the health system across countries. Wearable devices can help physicians give more specific diagnosis, and patients in helping them in creating a thorough medical history. At-home remote monitoring tools for cardiac health in rural areas can save lives. Rapid screening technologies for appropriate antibiotic prescribing can reduce medicines misuse. So why aren’t these innovations invested in more broadly?

European Parliamentary Interest Group on innovation in health and social care

Health First Europe launched the European Parliamentary Interest Group on innovation in health and social care in November 2014, aimed at improving patient access to innovation in health and social care by influencing EU policy. The interest group – chaired by MEP Kay Swinburne (UK, ECR), MEP Marian Harkin (Ireland, ALDE), MEP Karin Kadenbach (Austria, S&D) and MEP Cristian-Silviu Busoi (Romania, EPP) – has as principal objectives to ensure public health is a European Parliament priority;

  • Ensure public health is a European Parliament priority;
  • Ensure innovation is prioritised on the EU health and social care agenda;
  • Raise awareness of patient-centric solutions for sustainable, accessible and resilient health systems;
  • Stress the need for urgent actions and foster concrete actions for change2.

As Honorary President of Health First Europe, I have worked with our MEP co-chairs to understand the needs of patients, carers and professionals who are facing the current healthcare reforms and to showcase how existing examples of innovation (for instance newborn screening for early diagnosis) can improve patients` lives and the role of the EU in advancing innovation. During the last meeting – which took place in June 2016 – we have finalised, with the support of experts from the European Commission, a list of policy recommendations for the European and national policy makers to support the translation of innovation in health and social care into healthcare reforms. Bearing in mind the critic role of innovation in improving patient lives, I reckon it is necessary to work together to motivate Member States to invest in cost-effective innovation by giving access to proper insurance for all citizens, enhancing patient roles in the healthcare reforms, sharing best practices, investing in training for the healthcare workforce.

Promoting innovative healthcare reforms

Healthcare systems are complex and include a myriad of stakeholders who have conflicting goals, such as access to services, profitability, high quality, cost containment, safety, convenience, patient-centeredness, and satisfaction. In order to improve healthcare systems for patients` benefits, it is essential to build a better partnership between business, academia and regulatory authorities. Silos needed to be broken down through stronger partnerships and multidisciplinary. Integrated approaches between health and social care need to be in place to build flexible, as well as patient and results oriented healthcare systems.

Bearing in mind that healthcare system reform is a national competence, the EU can support these efforts through stronger country assessment, benchmarking, reference networks, knowledge exchange and technical assistance. The European Commission following up its 2014 communication on building more effective, accessible and resilience health care systems in Europe3 is engaged in several activities, such as the coordination of the Health System Performance Assessments Working Group, to identify useful methodologies and tools to support policy makers to strengthen effectiveness, increase accessibility and improve resilience of health systems. The patient safety and quality of care working group, the Expert Panel of effective ways of investing in health which aims at providing useful methodologies and tools to support policy makers to strengthen effectiveness, increase accessibility and improve resilience of health systems.

There is no one-size model which can fit for European healthcare, Member States need to look to their own health systems and structures and see which areas can be innovated. To help patients to benefit from innovative healthcare solutions, it is essential to have innovative reforms. Cost-effective innovation for patient’s benefits is not only about new technologies and new products, but it is also about new structures, new delivery model, new processes, new services, new financial mechanisms, new pricing mechanisms, and also workforce skills. What we need is a mix of all these innovative elements.

1.Disruptive Innovation. Considerations for health and health care in Europe – Final opinion, 09 April 2016.

2  European Parliamentary Interest Group on Innovation in Health and Social care,

3 COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMISSION On effective, accessible and resilient health systems, 4 April 2014.

John Bowis, OBE

Honorary President

Health First Europe


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