“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got”
The Connecting Healthcare Debate held on 5 November in Brussels brought together patients, policymakers, health professionals, hospitals and industry to share our aspirations for the future. The event highlighted the many areas where our ambitions overlap as well as issues where further dialogue is needed to chart a way forward.
There was strong agreement on the need to build common solutions and responsibilities and to have a formal setting in which this can be done. The audience – itself a diverse group of healthcare actors – was asked whether they would support the creation of a multi-stakeholder High-Level Forum on Access & Healthcare Transformation. A resounding 94% voted ‘Yes’.
I was pleased to hear Martin Seychell, Deputy Director General for Health at the European Commission, agree that the challenges we face in defining the future of healthcare – in an era of technological revolution and rising demand for care – can only be solved together. The Commission’s convening power and its role in creating an environment of mutual trust could be a catalyst for the crafting a patient-centred, outcomes-focused health systems.
The audience was asked another intriguing question: what should be their top priority to improve healthcare in Europe over the next five years?
The answer was instructive: the most popular response was ‘the discovery of new treatments’, followed by ‘affordability of treatment’. Of course, this was a self-selecting group rather than a random sample, but I think these two issues neatly summarise the key tensions we are all working to overcome.
I voted for the discovery of new treatments, but we all know that this is not enough: innovation is worthless unless it reaches those who need it. In other words, finding new therapies is of value only if they are available to patients. Innovation and access are two sides of the same coin.
We had a fruitful exchange of views on affordability and the need for access to medicines. As noted by Usman Khan, Executive Director of the European Patients’ Forum, we must not leave some patients behind. In Europe, we need to reduce the gaps between the countries and even regions with the best outcomes and those with the worst outcomes. This means striving for equal access to the best medicines and technologies, as well as access to medical specialists and to preventative programmes such as screening and vaccination.
Putting patients first
This is, without doubt, our common goal and our common challenge. The incredible pace with which new scientific and technological advances are emerging has thrust us into a disruptive era in healthcare. However, many of these advances could be harnessed to reduce inequalities. For a start, by collecting data on outcomes, including patient-reported outcomes, we can identify gaps and learn which interventions work best to address them.
We need to ensure that the revolutions in data and biotech serve the patient while being sustainable for the healthcare system. I see innovation and sustainability as compatible rather than a source of conflict. The challenge for industry, patients and decision-makers is to develop and incentivise solutions that add value for patients and to the health system itself.
Strength in diversity
By agreeing together what we want to achieve, healthcare stakeholders can ensure we are all pushing in the same direction. Central to this is having everyone is in the same room. This includes Member States.
The challenges we face are immense, yet the promise of innovation should give us hope that we can solve them. However, this is only achievable when we sit together in a spirit of mutual trust.
Widening the roundtable helps everyone: by bringing in patients, providers, tech companies and others, diverse perspectives are brought together that can unshackle us from tired old positions. As Henry Ford said: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got”. The future of healthcare is about more than just new therapies and technologies, it demands new healthcare models and new ways of working.
I believe that together we can ensure access to the best care for patients now and in the future. That means looking at new ways to introduce a new generation of treatments. The Connecting Healthcare Debate was a step in the right direction – we have many more miles to walk together.