Five major challenges for European healthcare

Posted on 24/03/2020 by charlene
DISCLAIMER: this article is older than one year and may not be up to date with recent events or newly available information.

Europe has made great progress in healthcare in recent years. According to a recent Deloitte report, an EU citizen born today can expect to live 30 years longer than his or her ancestors a century ago. And much suggests that this trend will persist.

What exactly is driving this progress is a topic we’ve given forensic examination to in our recent  ’ report, which takes a detailed look at the state of the European health sector. From cloud to costs and staff to security, the report looks at the major macro influences and influencers when it comes to the heartbeat of healthcare in Europe – all of which will be covered as part of a blog series. The first of which is this piece, looking at the healthcare sector today.

European medical report

Without a doubt, the European healthcare industry faces major issues. Aging and growing populations, greater prevalence of chronic diseases, the globally rising shortage of five million healthcare workers and the financial discrepancies of care are all putting pressure on the healthcare sector like never before. However, this is contrasted with exponential advances in innovative technological developments. Thanks to digital innovations and new biotechnologies, today’s healthcare industry has tools at its disposal that it would not have dared to dream about, even just a few years ago.

Nowhere is this more prevalent than in technology, particularly improvements to access and movement of knowledge and information. The advent of cloud computing has made it easier and faster to publish apps and new services while redefining how we consume IT. Elsewhere, improvements to networking is enabling the industry to share clinical records which is leading to better outcomes, better diagnosis and a better patient experiences. These digital foundational technologies have led to widespread innovation, inspiration and improved the lives of patients around the world – all through software and without a scalpel in sight. Exactly how these technologies are enabling such change is something we’ll cover over the course of this blog series.

Of course, we’re only scratching the surface of the impact of emerging technologies, like AI and machine learning too. These relatively new concepts are going to redefine healthcare in the biggest way since Fleming pioneered penicillin. But this is not the moment for the healthcare sector to rest on its laurels. While technology may solve challenges around speed, accessibility, transparency and volume, it undoubtedly creates questions elsewhere in the chain, which is creating five distinct challenges in European healthcare:

Data availability – The availability of health data is opening entirely new possibilities. By using information more effectively, the healthcare industry can accelerate medical R&D, integrate real-world evidence into regulatory processes and accelerate the transition to outcomes-focused healthcare. This helps reduce variation in quality and reduces inefficiencies to put an emphasis on what matters most – outcomes for patients. But to do this requires new, sometimes unproven, technologies to be implemented quickly and efficiently as well as exchanges of data, which isn’t always possible. However, the rapid pace of change means that it is practically impossible to have a clear, up to date understanding of all trends and directions. Technologies such as machine learning and artificial intelligence can help doctors evaluate the myriad of information. However, this requires studies that are used for evaluation, which is often only possible to a limited extent due to data protection requirements or unlinked databases.

Demographic – Ageing societies will exert significant cost pressure on healthcare systems over the next few years. At the same time, high unmet medical need persists in diseases like cancer or Alzheimer’s. This requires continued large-scale investments in research and development. The pharmaceutical industry has a major role to play in tackling these challenges and how it implements technology that is future-proofed and fit for purpose will be the key to driving the development of breakthrough therapies, particularly in social care and keep older people in their homes longer. For this, telemedicine, IOT and Wearables are going to play a huge role.

Patients – Patients will play a central role in shaping the future of healthcare in Europe. That includes how medicines are developed, how services are designed, and how chronic conditions are managed. Thankfully the industry has moved from talking about patients to talking with patients to help shape policy and practice across the life cycle of medicines. Not only is this the right thing to do, it also improves the process of discovering, developing and delivering new treatments and cures. The challenge now is how to best deal with the volume of information, and therefore the cloud, while managing the proactive patient – one that inadvertently poses a new level of security threat to every healthcare organisation (something we’ll address in a future post).

Collaboration – The power of collaboration has proven a successful formula for tackling not only major scientific challenges but also political turmoil in the context of Brexit. However, even at this late stage, one of the only certainties is uncertainty, particularly around sharing of information, research and access to the best and most appropriate clinicians. One of the biggest threats has been the supply of medicines, through thankfully the industry has taken proactive measures to minimise the impact of Brexit on patients in both the UK and the EU. In the new normal, whatever that looks like, how medical teams, pharmaceutical companies, patients and governments collaborate will be a critical indicator as to the long-term health of the region.

Regulation – One of the major issues brought about by the increasing supply of data and sharing of information is a potentially unwanted, but necessary, increase in regulation. As healthcare becomes a global system, complying with all the rules will be even more complex in the near future. This is because the era of digital health simultaneously ushers in the era of losing privacy as the more data healthcare uses to provide us with the best possible care, the higher the risk of loss of personal data. This is where we’re likely to see innovations in blockchain technology, particularly around digital health records, become increasingly prevalent.

Despite the challenges, there has arguably never been a more exciting time to be involved in the European healthcare sector. While the industry is already able to deliver great patient care today, getting to grips with technology today and taking advantage of emerging technologies is undoubtedly going to be the foundation of the future of healthcare.

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