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Opinion: New European legislation is the step change we need to accelerate digital healthcare

Kry CEO Johannes Schildt weighs in on why the proposed European Health Data Space has the potential to radically transform the delivery of healthcare across Europe.
Opinion: New European legislation is the step change we need to accelerate digital healthcare
Kry CEO Johannes Schildt

Over the past decade, we’ve seen the potential for remarkable advances in digital healthcare. Not only in the tools and technology themselves, but also in the attitudes of doctors and patients towards using these tools. The nature of the pandemic normalised for many the concept of virtual consultations, online prescriptions, and digital health records. However, let there be no doubt, healthcare systems across Europe are struggling: costs are rising, health workers are facing constant resource challenges, patient access is reducing, waiting times increasing and tax payers are not seeing the benefits of the billions invested in our public systems.

How do we emerge from this pattern of reducing care? There is no single cure to what ails us, but a better, more joined-up use of digital technology is surely the bedrock for the future.

Simply put, the lack of interoperability between healthcare systems and our inability to share health data within as well as across borders has hindered real progress.

In recent years, the EU has focussed a number of initiatives on improving access to data for cross-border care delivery, in particular through [email protected] - a digital service to support continuity of care for citizens traveling in the EU - which provided some building blocks of interoperable summaries of electronic health records and ePrescriptions. It has also gone some way to opening the hearts and minds of health professionals and patients to the value of these tools.

The pandemic has spawned some great healthcare innovations with countries sharing population covid data that informed health research and policymaking, while the European Reference Networks for Rare Diseases has proven the value of sharing medical expertise across EU borders.

Despite these positive steps, health is often seen as the last frontier to adopting digital technology.

If we're serious about overcoming the long-term pressures on our health systems and if we really want patients to benefit from new technologies, we need to act now at a European level to tackle the fragmented digital health market and the lack of interoperability of the tools that are central to using health data and helping patients.

That’s why yesterday's publication of the European Health Data Space (EHDS) is such an important step-change in the state of European healthcare. The proposed legislative framework will promote better exchange and access to different types of health data (electronic health records, genomics data, data from patient registries, etc), and sets out an important framework for making use of that data both for care delivery and for health systems and scientific research. It is a welcome recognition that the unique characteristics of health data require a different set of rules beyond GDPR that govern how it is shared.

It presents us with a window of opportunity to increase collaboration between countries and proactively develop the technology and data infrastructure necessary for sustainable and resilient healthcare delivery.

The potential impact on patients, clinicians, and health systems as a whole cannot be understated.

At Kry, we’ve been delivering high-quality primary care across Europe via our digital tools for years now. We are in a good position to understand how it will be greatly enhanced by improved access and sharing of health data from less clinician time wasted on needlessly complicated administration to empowering patients through oversight of and control of their own data.

Healthcare systems will always be governed at a national level, but we are at the stage where it is joined-up European action that will deliver the benefits of digital healthcare locally and reduce fragmentation. Additionally, given people are increasingly living and working across borders in Europe, the ability for patients to access quality healthcare in any country at any time would also be significant. Moreover, in the context of increasing population displacement, not least in the wake of the Ukraine war, it is more vital than ever that we find flexible ways to connect people with the care they need.

And finally, sharing health data of the European population as a whole will mean better insights into chronic diseases and an ability to spot trends much earlier. It is currently possible to access population health data, but the process of gaining the appropriate permission and extracting the data is clunky, complex, and time-consuming.

The EHDS’ focus on access to data for secondary use and the interoperability of health data infrastructure would streamline this process and allow us to share population health data across borders far more easily. Armed with this information, European organisations can support healthcare research and design data-driven healthcare policies and care planning that will be most impactful to patients, driving better performance in healthcare systems.

The EHDS presents a turning point for Europe. If we get this right, we could significantly improve the way we manage our scarce healthcare resources, and provide better quality care at a lower cost as a result. And this is something that could be replicated in other parts of the world. Europe has the potential to become a pioneer in healthcare, attracting more talent and investment to the region in the process.

If we choose to ignore the benefits of technology and of working together, then it's patients that lose out. The EHDS proposal has the potential to positively impact the lives of hundreds of millions of people - that's the prize, and the ambition that Kry would like to support.

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