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Unlocking Innovation to Build More Resilient and Sustainable Healthcare Systems in Europe

Updated: May 18, 2022

Building the resilience and sustainability of European health systems is not a new goal for the European Union (EU) and national governments. Yet, the COVID-19 crisis was an eye-opener globally on the need to better equip healthcare systems to respond to public health threats. Steps in this direction include new impetus for the creation of an EU Health Union as well as a series of proposals aimed at strengthening the EU’s health security framework and enhancing the EU’s crisis preparedness and response capacity, including the revision of the mandates of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) as well as strengthening measures for Cross-Border Health Threats. These were followed by the establishment of the European Health Emergency Response Authority (HERA), a new European Commission department focusing on crisis preparedness and response measures, supported by a Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) to help mitigate the economic and societal impact of the pandemic, as well as the EU Health Programme (EU4Health) which injects €5.3 billion into innovation and implementation focused on supporting Member States in developing more resilient healthcare systems.5 In parallel, the Conference on the Future of Europe has engaged EU citizens in a year-long democratic exercise to shape the future in a number of areas including health and digital transformation. Reflecting these ambitions, the EIT Health Think Tank has undertaken a project to gather expert insight into the potential for innovation in health to support the creation of more resilient and sustainable healthcare systems in Europe by capitalising on the considerable benefits that innovation can provide. To date, the role and perspective of innovation in a holistic sense, integrating the wider societal (i.e. socio-economic) aspects of health, remain largely unexplored as a key factor in building resilient and sustainable healthcare systems. This topic cannot be ignored in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which highlighted inherent challenges of current healthcare systems’ infrastructure and capability throughout the EU and demonstrated the powerful role of innovation in tackling the emergency and changing care delivery. These aspects need to be addressed and require investment to strengthen Europe’s capacity to withstand future crises and ensure sustainability in the long term. This EIT Health Think Tank research project ‘Unlocking innovation to build more resilient and sustainable healthcare systems in Europe’ gathers insights from academia, civil society, policymakers, industry, payers and providers on the role of health innovation across different sectors. The research was undertaken from August 2021 to January 2022 through analysis of written questionnaires followed by one-to-one interviews and a round-table discussion. This report highlights existing barriers to the full deployment of innovation and presents research participants’ recommendations on how innovation – understood as new solutions and processes, and importantly also as new ideas and perspectives – EIT HEALTH - Unlocking Innovation to Build More Resilient and Sustainable Healthcare Systems in Europe 9 can best build and support resilient and sustainable healthcare systems moving forward, either by developing, linking to and strengthening ongoing initiatives or by proposing new approaches to care delivery. Importantly, insights gained from this research have highlighted that the challenges we face today are in large part not substantively new, but rather an exacerbation of previously identified ones. These results call for a renewed sense of clarity around roadblocks and new targeted recommendations to realise common goals through enhanced collaboration between EU and national institutions, enhanced support for existing EU initiatives, and facilitation of new multi-stakeholder partnerships – all areas which EIT Health is keen to support. Outputs of the discussions and policy recommendations are grouped under three key areas: (1) health system organisation and governance, (2) digitalisation, data and technology, and (3) policy and funding. At the outset, research participants established a baseline for the subsequent discussions by reviewing and analysing the accepted definitions of ‘innovation’, ‘resilience’ and ‘sustainability’ as they relate to the health systems. Insights into the current obstacles and opportunities to the adoption of technological and non-technological (e.g. organisational, societal) innovations in healthcare came through based on research participants’ sector experience, and highlighted learnings from the COVID-19 pandemic – both positive and negative – that must inform future healthcare policies. Key ‘building blocks’ were identified across the three areas identified above, which research participants felt were critical to sustainable and resilient healthcare systems. The research is supported by real-world case studies and ‘best practice’ examples of ‘innovation in action’.

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