John Bowis, Honorary President of Health First Europe highlights how innovations in health are helping with tackling chronic diseases
“If we want to keep people healthy for as long as possible we need to focus on 3 Ps: Prevention, promotion and protection. Promoting good health – through healthy eating, exercise, healthy living and working conditions; Protecting citizens – by ensuring safety at work, on roads, or elsewhere; and Preventing disease – tackling all the risk factors” – Vytenis Andriukaitis, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety1.
The burden of chronic disease in Europe
In Europe, chronic diseases lead to the premature death of more than 550,000 people aged 25 to 64 each year, resulting in the loss of some 3.4 million potential productive life years2. Approximately €700 billion is spent every year across the EU on the treatment of these diseases. Better public health and prevention policies, as well as more effective health care models need to be developed to face the challenges of an ageing population and the rise of non-communicable diseases to save hundreds of thousands of lives and billions of euros.
Tackling chronic diseases: HFE role to bring innovation
As Honorary President of Health First Europe (HFE), I have worked to bring innovation in healthcare which can prevent and diagnose chronic conditions, as well as improve quality of life of patients affected by chronic diseases. In particular, I emphasise the importance of mobile health initiatives, as valuable ways of delivering healthcare, enhancing prevention, monitoring and managing health and lifestyle across Europe.
Mobile health has the potential to maximise patients’ autonomy, aid patient choice, improve diagnostics and prevention of chronic conditions, and better connect people to healthcare providers. It offers rapid access to medical records, a regular monitoring of health status and therefore it improves quality of life and healthcare, empowering patients and their carers. In this frame, the European Commission’s eHealth Action Plan 2012-20203 provides an important roadmap to empower patients and healthcare workers, link up devices and technologies, and invest in research towards the personalised medicine of the future.
Early diagnosis and screening are other vital instruments to help prevent both the emergence and acute phase of chronic diseases. Timely diagnosis appears fundamental. Firstly, primary prevention through screening programmes can help people diagnose the disease while it is asymptomatic, with no signs or symptoms, thus improving possibilities to identify the onset of a disease. Secondly, the earlier detection of disease may impact the progression of major chronic diseases, leading to more cures or longer survival and offering time saving measures.
Encouraging the transition towards a new model of integrated care
It is the area of chronic diseases where the greatest benefit lies in developing a new model to address healthcare needs and tackle the spread of cardiovascular diseases, respiratory problems, diabetes and serious mental health issues.
HFE commitment in developing patient-centric solutions for sustainable health systems and for enhancing innovation in Europe has particularly evolved through the development of the HFE model for community care in 2014. Community care is about incorporating patient care across the continuum of life, redefining the relationship between different providers of treatment by introducing a new channel of ‘healthcare’ based on a more patient centric and patient empowered model4’.
In line with this, the Expert group on Health Systems Performance Assessment (HSPA) has provided a relevant report5, released in March 2017 (HSPA) to assess integrated care6, perceived to be a fundamental component of health system reforms and innovation in Europe.
I truly support and encourage the effective design and implementation of integrated care frameworks to achieve person centred, efficient and safe care, as well as to address crucial challenges, such as population ageing, the rising burden of chronic diseases and constraints in public resources.
Coordinating efforts to achieve person centred, efficient and safe care
With integrated care being one of the key approaches to providing the healthcare that EU citizens’ demand and innovative treatments and infrastructures, Europe will gradually face the challenge of chronic diseases. A holistic approach is essential. EU policymakers need to be aligned and pursue shared goals, establishing strong governance mechanisms at all levels and showing more political support on overall patient well-being, bringing integrated care and hospitals closer as partners in the provision of care. Moreover, stakeholders should create effective communication strategies and make organisational changes in terms of healthcare structures, organisation of workflows, workforce development and resource allocation to provide more responsive care delivery.
I hereby call for a strong coordination amongst EU countries to raise awareness on chronic disease challenges, applying knowledge and experiences to implement effective prevention and control policies. To consider assessing EU health systems to further foster the transition towards a model of integrated care, identifying principles and factors that will lead to the development of a new ecosystem where all patients will be members of the “care team”, more involved in the decision-making processes, and where care plans will be tailored to their individual needs.
1 Speech of Vytenis Andriukaitis, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, 21 April 2016 – PREVENTING AND ADDRESSING CHRONIC DISEASES: A COMMISSION PRIORITY – MEETING ON CHRONIC DISEASES “TOWARDS THE BETTER PREVENTION AND MANAGEMENT OF CHRONIC DISEASES”, available at https://ec.europa.eu/commission/commissioners/2014-2019/andriukaitis/announcements/preventing-and-addressing-chronic-diseases-commission-priority-meeting-chronic-diseases-towards_lt
3 eHealth Action Plan 2012-2020: Innovative healthcare for the 21st century, available here https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/news/ehealth-action-plan-2012-2020-innovative-healthcare-21st-century
4 HFE Model for Community Care “Delivering positive health outcomes for citizens”, available here http://healthfirsteurope.org/uploads/Modules/Newsroom/131124_hfe_model_cc_a4_v06_lr.pdf
5 Report “Tools and methodologies to assess integrated care in Europe, released in March 2017 by the Expert group on Health Systems Performance Assessment”; http://ec.europa.eu/health/sites/health/files/systems_performance_assessment/docs/2017_blocks_en_0.pdf
6 Integrated care includes all initiatives seeking to improve outcomes of care by overcoming issues of fragmentation through linkage or coordination of services of providers along the continuum of care.
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