Healthcare in European countries is at a crossroads. Our life expectancy is longer than ever before; we increasingly wish to spend these extra years with a high quality of life.
We look to our healthcare systems to provide this. Yet at the same time, our ageing populations are placing stresses on those systems with increased levels of chronic diseases.
Without action, we face a tipping point; our healthcare systems face severe challenges. Yet every challenge also disguises an opportunity; we can view this as a turning point as well as a tipping point.
It can be the point where we use new models to create genuinely sustainable healthcare based around prevention and personalised care.
Currently, our healthcare systems are built around the concept of treating, not preventing disease; when people fall ill, we use our resources to try to heal them.
This model is no longer sustainable; it does not use limited resources effectively; subsequent treatment falls between silos, with unnecessary duplication of treatments and investigations and undesirable gaps in care.
A modern healthcare system requires a fresh approach; this is the turning point. One that places the emphasis on prevention, on detecting illnesses before they become a problem and before complications and morbidities become an issue.
One that also ensures that care is properly joined up and coordinated, personalised to the needs of the individual, with responsibility shared between healthcare professionals and patients and their carers. In other words, what we need is integrated care.
Previously, such an approach, combining widespread protection with individualised care would have been immensely challenging. However, the digital revolution offers solutions to many of the challenges posed. Applying modern eHealth approaches allows for the real-time monitoring of health and the benefit of early intervention.
This digital revolution offers huge promise; connected devices allowing remote monitoring and even treatment, wearable devices creating user-generated data and smartphone apps that measure health parameters.
The information from these can provide fuel for big data analysis, creating new insights; the increasing use of cloud computing will accelerate the process. Applying technology can make the transition to true integrated care a reality.
This will not happen overnight; there are technological barriers to uptake that must be overcome; connectivity and standards that allow a genuinely pan European approach will be vital.
However, technology alone is not sufficient to drive change; we will need more than this. It will require strong political leadership and vision, sustained investment and a long-term vision.
We need to accelerate development of this new ecosystem that leverages the benefits of rapidly emerging technologies and realises their full potential. How do we maximise their usefulness, how do we combine technological, digital tools in with profitable business models, how do we approach the wider promotion of those solutions, support involvement of key partners and develop a powerful partnership?
The European Commission’s ‘European innovation partnership on active and healthy ageing’ initiative, designed to foster innovation, offers a platform for this work. It is important that we realise its full potential.
We need more such partnerships. Stakeholders need to work together to show the broad base of support for this approach. I spoke recently at the launch of the ‘call for action’ of the newly established Integrated Care Alliance. The establishment of this group is a welcome development, uniting industry, patients, clinicians and service providers and demonstrating the broad base of support for this transition.
Their call for action provides a series of recommendations for accelerating the uptake of integrated care. It also provides the framework for the necessary cooperation between stakeholders. This is vital when establishing rules, roles and responsibilities - both regulatory and non-regulatory - at EU and national level.
In addition to all of this, we also need information. We need in-depth analysis of the costs; not only the costs of moving to integrated care, but also the costs of not doing so.
We live in a data driven world; highlighting the genuine benefits will make decisions much more straightforward.