Influentially Disruptive

The status quo cannot continue; it’s time to reshape and remould our approaches to healthcare. The process can start at EHFG 2019, writes Clemens Martin Auer.

Clemens Martin Auer | Photo credit: Health forum Gastein

27 Sep 2019

European society is going through an unparalleled phase of disruption - from climate change to the digital revolution; from new ways of working to shifts in electoral politics.

At the same time, we face an impasse when realising transformative change for health. Political will and attempts to address the challenges notwithstanding, progress on public health is stalling and health inequalities persist.

Yet an ageing demographic will need greater access to quality care in the coming years, therefore it is clear that some disruption - a healthy dose of it - is urgently needed to change the status quo.


But what does disruption actually mean in practice and how can we find the right level of disruption for the health sector? Answering these questions is the aim of this year’s European Health Forum Gastein (EHFG) in Bad Hofgastein, Austria on 2-4 October 2019.

October 2019 symbolises a new beginning for Europe, with the appointment of a new Regional Director for World Health Organization’s (WHO) Europe region, several national elections pending across the continent and the new European Commission about to assume office.

It is the perfect time to acknowledge the elephants in the room, asking ourselves the uncomfortable questions that will allow us to start with a clean slate.

We must be ready to approach things differently, even if this means completely disrupting the system as we know it.

The notion of having to overhaul long-standing frameworks, ways of thinking and familiar practices can be disquieting, particularly when it comes to something as precarious as people’s health - especially when we do not know how we can achieve results.

“Political will and attempts to address the challenges notwithstanding, progress on public health is stalling and health inequalities persist”

As in previous years, the EHFG will provide the safe place needed to explore what lies outside our comfort zone. The good news is that we need not start from scratch. We can learn from existing champions, which is why the EHFG in 2019 will showcase changemakers, innovative and transformative ideas from the health sector and more.

Previous EHFGs have already drawn attention to the growing consensus that health and wellbeing transcend all aspects of life and thus should be tackled in all policies.

This means looking at issues holistically, addressing the social, economic and commercial determinants of health. This was most recently underscored in the WHO’s first-ever Health Equity Status Report for the European Region in September 2019.

This stated that “the health sector is pivotal to driving equity, prosperity and inclusive economies, but many other sectors, such as finance, housing, employment and education, also have important roles to play.”

This approach is reflected in the 2019 EHFG programme, with sessions highlighting how a lack of income security, social protection and poor living conditions represent hurdles to better health.

The richness of this year’s conference programme indicates just how broad the challenge of securing better health outcomes has become.

rom digitalisation to the global climate crisis, which the EHFG will explore in-depth during its plenary sessions, the programme includes a hackathon to help us find innovative solutions to tackle vaccine hesitancy.

Moreover, in addition to discussing the shortage of essential medicines, and the role of data and AI in speeding up diagnosis and offering personalised treatment, participants will tread new ground this year.

“What does disruption actually mean in practice and how can we find the right level of disruption for the health sector”

Sessions will explore patient blood management as a disruptive practice and will facilitate discussions on the medical use of cannabis and cannabinoids. Healthcare access to underserved communities, health literacy and the European Cancer Plan are also main topics on the agenda.

Decisive action and broad political engagement are needed, at all levels, to make sure we ensure all citizens can access to high-quality healthcare.

I was happy to see that incoming European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, has encouraged her team of Commissioners to deliver on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The next five years will be crucial to achieve tangible results on the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development.

Von der Leyen’s proposed set-up shows that she is not afraid to be proactive and pursue the healthy dose of disruption needed to develop efficient policies.

What we now need are practical solutions, and we will support the next European Commissioner for Health in taking concrete steps to more sustainable health systems in Europe.

The initiative of launching a European Cancer Plan is a good start; we also need to move forward on other areas, such as antimicrobial resistance, while making sure that digital solutions deliver on their promise.

I look forward to the EHFG inevitably lively discussions, to learning from unique voices and to seeing representatives from the EHFG’s four pillars; government, academia, civil society and industries, becoming trailblazers.

We must get disruption for health right.