Ilias Iakovidis and Bruno Alves from DG CONNECT at the European Commission explain how digital transformation can turn demographic change into an opportunity for Europe
The challenges resulting from demographic change are well documented and have been moved over the years from technical to strategic and recently to political debate at the highest level. According to the 2015 Ageing Report, by 2060, one in 3 Europeans will be over 65 shifting the ratio of “working” to “inactive” population; from 4 to 1 today to 2 to 1. Increased demand for health and care services due to the ageing population will not only increase the public spending but also lead to an acute shortage of labour supply in the caring services (estimated to be in the order of 20 million by 2025). Unless we act now, our social and economic models, as well as the quality of life of our population, is at risk.
Changing the conversation
Our vision is to turn the demographic change crisis into an opportunity for Europe. We have embarked on a journey to accelerate the benefits of digital innovation to improve the quality of life of individuals, supporting sustainability of health and care services and at the same time achieving economic growth in ‘Silver Economy’ sectors that serve unmet needs of our ageing population.
The increase of smart connected homes which can support active ageing and independent living solutions will reach 29.7 million homes in the EU by 2020. This represents an annual market worth of €15.4bn. Technology-based long-term care and home healthcare are forecasted to grow 18.8 % between 2015 and 2020, representing a global market value of $10.3bn. The sales of service robots for domestic tasks could reach 15.5 million units in 2016, with an estimated value of $ 5.6bn. All these areas have significant potential and will enable the type of transformation we seek to achieve in the way we deliver health and care to our ageing population.
The global spending power of the “baby boomer” generation will reach €13 trillion by 2020. Recognising the potential of the ageing consumer, the European Commission issued a report (in March 2015) outlining a Strategy for Europe to seize the Silver Economy opportunity. The strategy identifies different areas of potential growth for the European Silver economy; age-friendly smart homes and living environments integrated care solutions (health and social or community care) and finally, Silver tourism. Digital technology can play an important role in all 3 areas.
How can we seize the ageing opportunity?
Like for other societal challenges (climate, energy, migration and security), there is no ‘silver bullet’. But many things should happen in tandem and across many different sectors and administrations:
Since the launch of the Silver Economy Strategy, we have been aligning our different policy instruments and measures at EU level to stimulate innovative solutions (products and services) supported by robust business models. Europe’s response to demographic change must look across various policies and not in isolation at healthcare reform, employment and pension reform, economic policy, digitisation of industry and research and innovation priority settings.
The need to work across sectors, to stimulate innovation and manage investment risk, explains our continued commitment to the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing. The Partnership brings together thousands of stakeholders (end users, public authorities, industry); involved in the innovation cycle, from research to adoption.
One of our priorities is to support the implementation of innovative, ICT enabled solutions for integrated health and social / community care that have demonstrated benefits on a smaller scale in keeping people active and healthy and allowing them to live independently in their homes. This involves improving synergies between health and social care systems (organisational innovation), providing digital environment and solutions to health and social / community care workers to work more efficiently (skills-related innovation) as well as to individuals (which will improve their ‘response-ability’ to manage their health conditions).
Through the EU Horizon 2020 Research & Innovation funding programme we have been financing groundbreaking innovation in the field of digital solutions to support ageing well. This year we are launching new calls: one is dedicated to developing Internet of Things based ‘connected home platforms’ that will enable interoperability of solutions tailored to the needs of an ageing population, and with functionality across diverse areas such as independent living, health, energy efficiency, security, and others. Another instrument is focused on co-financing procurement of innovative digital solutions for integrated health and social care, in a way that reduces the investment risk for public procurers and private organisations investing in these solutions.
Adapting our care systems will also require moving away from “institutionalised care” into a safe “care- at home” model. In a way that meets what most people want or expect as they grow older. Unfortunately, some 70-80% of our existing building stock across Europe is unsuitable for independent living for the ageing population. We cannot address this challenge without working across sectors (technology, real estate, construction, transport and mobility etc.).
Connecting the dots: A shared vision
A shared vision is essential to mobilise investment and guarantee the commitment of all actors to transforming the ageing society into an opportunity for Europe. We can no longer settle for the “prize” of having developed some of the most innovative digital solutions in the world for active and healthy ageing. Now we must ensure that all these innovative solutions become mainstream practices, deliver positive outcomes across Europe and not only in one country and region.
Uniting behind a shared vision will require leadership and determination. In December 2015 European Commissioner Günther Oettinger (Digital Economy and Society) invited stakeholders to work together over 12 months with the European Commission in creating a shared vision on how digital innovation can transform Europe’s Ageing Society in the 21st Century.
It was an invitation to work across sectors and borders to boost patient and citizen empowerment, move to a results-based delivery of health and care, and develop new business models and economic opportunities in consumer markets which can scale across Europe and beyond.
Work is in progress to develop this shared vision. If we succeed in “connecting the dots” over the course of the next 12 months, 2016 may well be the turning point in the way Europe has transformed ageing into an opportunity for its economy, health and care services and above-all its citizens.
The views expressed in the article are the sole responsibility of the author and in no way represent the view of the European Commission and its services.
Acting Head of Unit – Digital Social Platforms
DG CONNECT – European Commission