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Big data in Healthcare – what role for the EU?

Big data in Healthcare – what role for the EU?

Today the European Union (EU) is faced with several changes that may affect the sustainability of its healthcare system if nothing is done. For instance, by 2025 the life expectancy is expected to increase. This may result in more people living longer, but not necessarily in a healthy and active condition, which can put further pressure on Europe’s healthcare costs and economic productivity. Looking at these challenges ahead, the idea of launching the European Health Parliament (EHP) was born and, since November 2014, Europe’s youth has been gathering in Brussels with the intention of exploring new and fresh ideas on the solutions of Europe’s future healthcare. The initiative is backed by Johnson&Johnson, which is leading the project together with other partners such us: Politico, Google, European Patients’ Forum, College of Europe and EU40 (network of Members of the European Parliament under 40 years old).

More specifically, the EHP is a platform of 55 young European professionals and students with a mix of diverse backgrounds (political studies, biomedical science, pharmacy, medicine, economics, international relations and others) and diverse occupation (healthcare industry, students, European institutions, patient organization, civil society…). Participants are working together over 7 months. Throughout this time, they are brainstorming as a Parliament across 5 committees to develop political solutions around specific topics ranging from digital skills for the medical profession, prevention & self-care, antimicrobial resistance and others. During the project lifespan, four plenary sessions are organized to pull in expert feedback from the EU policymaking circle. The objective is to meet with key stakeholders and share ideas with EU officials, Members of the European Parliament, NGOs, media and interested public, in order to deliver high-level policy-oriented recommendations. Once the papers are finalized and presented at the last plenary session, they are shared with policymakers and the healthcare community across the EU28. The hope is that the proposals can be implemented by the European Commission or any other national government as a possible legislative proposal.

So far, two EHP editions have been organized and, in October 2017, Johnson&Johnson and EHP partners will be launching the third one. The project has become a brand in itself and it sparked great interest from the policy community and the wider public thanks to the engagement of a broad spectrum of stakeholders. Further, the EHP has inspired other countries to replicate the initiative and it has already been executed also in UK, Portugal, Germany, while other markets are considering it, like South Africa, Brazil, Mexico and Australia.

The first EHP edition (2014-2015) has addressed seven issues, namely (i) Big data in healthcare, (ii) Cross-border health threats, (iii) Access to therapeutic innovation, (iv) Patient empowerment and centricity, (v) The economic dimension of healthcare, (vi) Prevention of chronic diseases, (vii) Electronic/mobile health. Hereinafter, we present a short summary of the key recommendations developed throughout that year:

  • doing more and better with fewer resources, by taking a wider view of health that sees health spending as an investment rather than as a cost;
  • creating a Europe-wide connected Electronic Health Records Organization to collect and make use of patient data across member states;
  • employing a table of criteria for decision-making on who gets what when choices have to be made on access to new therapies;
  • making Europe’s healthcare systems as mobile and flexible as the cross-border threats that they now face;
  • integrating digital health fully into healthcare systems as part of a comprehensive strategy – including into reimbursement systems;
  • embedding patient involvement at every level of the health system, from policy-making through to delivery of care;
  • preventing chronic disease through reducing alcohol-related harm and counteracting Europe’s tendency to heavy consumption.

If we look closely at the various topics discussed, Big data in healthcare is still a sensitive issue for the EU institutions with a view to achieving a fully integrated single market on data sharing. This would be of utmost importance since the spread and evolutions of information technologies and digital tools have enabled an entire new dimension of big-data storage and analytics that can bring tremendous improvements across industries, including healthcare. In this context, the Big data in healthcare committee drawn up an interesting proposal that aims at creating a European wide connected Electronic Health Records Organization (EHRO) empowering patients by enabling the effective collection and usage of patients’ health data across Member states, revolutionizing healthcare and ultimately leading to better health outcomes for patients and payers irrespective of national borders.

According to the work done by the committee, the creation of the EHRO would aim at overcoming past hurdles and challenges faced by various member states, and catapults Europe to the forefront of the new digital century of health. The proposal illustrates a scale-up approach leveraging on prototypes and building from existing pillars of success, while using an open and transparent approach to platform creation. The committee members claimed that a patient driven opt-in system would lead to fast adoption, while targeted education campaigns and an incentive based system at health provider level would accelerate uptake and build trust. Moreover, the system would empower patients and assist clinicians, but also provide a wealth of knowledge to advance medical science, preventing diseases and improve health for everyone.

The benefits of using Electronic Health Records would be remarkable not only because the EHRs at EU level could create value for patients, but also for health practitioners and governments. As a matter of fact, patients would be able to receive appropriate treatment across Member states by sharing personal health information with any physician in the EU (conditional on the patient’s consent) and avoiding unnecessary medical fees and administrative burdens (such as duplication of medical analyses). They would possess a centralized, up-to-date and easily accessible health “database”, while retaining ownership and ensuring appropriate use of their data.

In addition, healthcare practitioners would have a comprehensive view of the patient’s medical background and history over time, thereby enabling them to offer the most appropriate treatment. This would avoid misunderstandings with patients over their health condition (e.g. due to differences in languages, or in national names of drugs), and would save time and improve their ability to provide service to patients. It would also promote the development of telemedicine, by attracting patients from abroad through diagnoses and monitoring services via remote systems.

Another advantage would be that Member states could develop a single electronic health platform that could be rolled out across all national administrative units achieving a better balance of costs and benefits in healthcare budgets improving treatments and avoiding duplicate medical tests. More importantly, it would make possible to obtain better health data and insights into the state of health of the population, along with the ability to tailor specific prevention programmes, improve reimbursement systems, or increase focus on areas of unmet need.

Nonetheless, in order to fully unlock these sources of value, three key problems remain at EU level: standardization (the establishment of common tools and norms to ensure interoperability), access control (the definition of the relevant level of access for each group of stakeholders, as well as of data ownership) and communication (the development of a relevant outreach to patients and healthcare providers). Indeed, fragmentation in the European healthcare sector and of data is a key challenge for Europe in the coming years in order to achieve the potential of Big Data analytics. Healthcare, as a public good and associated with many sensitive issues for patients and practitioners alike, requires the support and leadership of public authorities in the drive towards unleashing the digital revolution in this field. This can be best fulfilled through the establishment of a clear legal framework for collecting and accessing medical records. Unless supervised by public bodies with strong yet impartial mandates, such initiatives are unlikely to succeed in delivering the desired far-reaching positive impacts.

The recommendation for an EU-wide coordinated action to facilitate easy access, sharing and interoperability of electronic health records and future Big Data analytics would improve healthcare in Europe in the future. This is why the setting up of a European Health Records Organization, in charge of designing and rolling out a standardized electronic platform for medical records throughout Europe, would greatly facilitate the aggregation of medical data at the European level for research purposes, helping notably the prevention of chronic diseases and epidemics. At the same time, it would guarantee a higher level of protection for patient data and would give them the possibility to receive medical treatment in another EU country, in the most efficient manner with the best quality treatment. Therefore, the creation of EHRO would constitute a significant step towards this revolution in medical research and healthcare improvement.

Please, read more about this by clicking on the following link

Big data in Healthcare the experience and results from the European Health Parliament

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