MedTech Europe: Lessons from COVID-19 and how to prepare for health emergencies

Medical technologies, from diagnostic tests to medical apps, played a vital role during the pandemic. MedTech Europe CEO Serge Bernasconi explains how medical technologies contributed to the pandemic response and how to prepare for health emergencies
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By Serge Bernasconi

Serge Bernasconi is CEO of MedTech Europe

08 Nov 2021

What is MedTech Europe?

MedTech Europe is the European trade association for the medical technology industry including diagnostics, medical devices and digital health. Our members are national, European and multinational companies as well as a network of national medical technology associations who research, develop, manufacture, distribute and supply health-related technologies, services and solutions. Our mission is to make innovative medical technology available to more people, while helping healthcare systems move towards a sustainable path.

What role does the medical technology sector play in the management of COVID-19?

Medical technologies play a vital role in the management of COVID-19. In the early phase of the pandemic, the sector provided diagnostics tests (molecular and rapid) to monitor the development of the pandemic, medical masks, gloves, goggles and garments to limit the spread of the virus, and respiratory support equipment, that includes ventilators and extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), as a crucial part of intensive care treatment. More recently, the sector has been contributing to the global vaccination campaign with the manufacturing and the distribution of syringes and needles.

At the same time, digital health solutions, such as remote patient monitoring, medical apps and software allowed millions of patients to connect with their doctors and care teams remotely to monitor their health and therapies. There is broad recognition today that digital technology solutions play a vital role in upholding important parts of routine care despite the impact of COVID-19.

"Medical technologies play a vital role in the management of COVID-19"

Can the medical technology sector contribute to moving to a ‘post pandemic world’? 

Yes. Medical technologies already play a critical role in transforming care delivery, making it as resilient as possible. To continue our everyday lives during the pandemic, we rely on diagnostic tests to help manage cases and isolate affected individuals, as well as triaging patients who may have other respiratory diseases with the same symptoms as COVID-19, and of course on PPE, which protect people and create a safer environment for medical personnel.

On a more systemic level, the pandemic has accelerated the digitalisation of healthcare and we are now seeing care increasingly delivered through electronic means. Patients are taking more responsibility for their own health by self-monitoring their conditions through the use of medical apps, and this is particularly crucial for patients who suffer from chronic conditions.

The digitalisation of healthcare is urgent and is here to stay. A single actor is not able to drive this transition alone. If Europe wants to make best use of digital health to cope with the current crisis, to build a sustainable recovery path, and to affirm its competitiveness in the world, it needs to show strong leadership and encourage knowledge sharing going forward.

Agility of healthcare systems is another element for a post-pandemic world. During the peak of the crisis, many patients were waiting for elective surgeries due to COVID-19 hospitalisations, for example in orthopaedic or ophthalmology. We need to look at how we can increase the flexibility of our healthcare systems so that they can address peaks in care demand at different levels. This means having hospitals that are able to rapidly move from intense periods during health emergencies, to being able to deal with an excess of cases of people who need to have hip implants or knee replacement that had been held up before because of the health crisis.

What are the lessons learnt from this pandemic that could guide us for future health crisis preparedness?

COVID-19 management has led to abrupt increases in demand, supply chain and logistic disruption, as well as the imperative need to supply the medical technologies needed. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that there is room for improvement in how Member States could best monitor, purchase, stock and distribute healthcare products.

Several conclusions can be drawn for the future. Firstly, Europe should strengthen the resilience of its medical technologies- supply chains to respond to future public health emergencies by, for instance, incentivising a stronger diversification of critical components, chemicals and other raw materials needed to manufacture critical medical technologies, while fostering reliable global trade relations and policies.

Secondly, appropriate and well-coordinated procurement mechanisms are crucial for crisis preparedness and management. The main issue experienced throughout the pandemic came from the overlap of multiple procurement activities at EU, national and local levels for the same demands of medical equipment. This has been particularly detrimental in the case of EU procurement procedures on capital equipment (i.e., ventilators, ECMO devices). EU Joint Procurement Agreements can support crisis preparedness to build effective stocks, rather than be a tool for crisis management. Also, new cross-border collaborative models of procurement should be explored for crisis preparedness and management.

Thirdly, strengthening effective stockpiling mechanisms at national and EU levels will prove essential for any future public health emergency. Effective and sustainable stockpiling of medical technologies should focus on ensuring availability of needed devices and services where needed for patients in all medical areas.

“The Commission’s goal of building a European Health Union is an important step forward towards more resilient healthcare systems, and MedTech Europe supports this. To succeed, though, a structured dialogue with civil society is critical”

What do you think of the EU’s strategy for future pandemic preparedness?

I think the European Commission’s goal of building a European Health Union is an important step forward towards more resilient healthcare systems, and MedTech Europe supports this. To succeed, though, a structured dialogue with civil society is critical.

Part of the success will depend on the new roles of the European Medicines Agency and the European Centre for Disease Control, as well as of the newly established European Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA). We maintain that a structured dialogue between the European Commission, Member States, industry, and other stakeholders is a precondition for success. This dialogue needs to cover preparedness before and management during a crisis. This has proven to be a valuable pillar during the current COVID-19 pandemic and MedTech Europe would encourage Europe’s legislators to institutionalise such dialogue platforms.

This content was commissioned by MedTech Europe and produced by Dods