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Member of the European Commission, responsible for Health and Consumer Policy



Government Leaders Forum Europe, Plenary Address

London, 4th November 2010


Prime Minister,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak to you today on a subject that is so important for the future of healthcare in Europe…indeed globally.

Let me start with my conclusion. If we want to have a sustainable healthcare system that continues to keep all our citizens in good health, we must build the culture, the infrastructure and the delivery system for innovation to be an integral part of out healthcare system.

This will help us to reduce the demand pressures that have been built up and that will continue to build up especially with the demographic metamorphysis of our society, and at the same time to reduce the cost of healthcare through a widespread dissemination of telemedicine.

A quick view of the statistics of spending on Healthcare in the EU points to an unsustainable spiral of further and higher spending.

Projections show that health budgets are due to rise by up to 2% of the GDP in several European countries between now and 2060.

The demands on our health care systems will be greater, both in terms of numbers but also in terms of the quality that our citizens will expect.

The growing ageing population will be a challenge for us to deal with.

We all agree on the fundamentals which drive us: the provision of high quality health care services is a basic tenant of the societies in which we live – we cannot lower coverage or standards – indeed we can and must improve them.

So how do we square the circle? How can we best tackle these challenges?

How do we design and build a smart and sustainable healthcare system for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren?

The answer is innovation.

  • Innovation can help provide health services to all citizens no matter where they live, where they are and who is treating them.

  • Innovation can improve the quality of healthcare and deliver a more patient-centred care.

  • Innovation can help make health systems more efficient and sustainable.

Let me try and address each of these points in turn.

First, innovation in healthcare can deliver health services to all citizens.

Each and every citizen should have easy access to good quality healthcare.

Health planning and budgetary pressures, however, may make it difficult to ensure a full geographical spread of all health services that citizens may need.

And in some cases – particularly in the smallest Member States – the specific expertise needed, for example, to diagnose and treat a rare disease – may not be available within national borders.

New technology, including eHealth applications, can make it possible for patients to access the best medical expertise - via telemedicine for example - without moving from their home town.

eHealth can bring healthcare to citizens and regions which would, otherwise, not have access to it.

This is particularly needed for elderly patients who by nature are less able to move long distances.

On the other hand, moving from one place to another, within or across national borders, is part of many Europeans' daily lives.

Let me give you my own example. My family lives in Malta; I work in Brussels; and my job takes me all over Europe and beyond.

Should I fall ill in any of these countries, I do not want to repeat the same medical examinations I have already undertaken in my home country.

This costs money and is a waste of precious resources apart from being highly inconvenient.

In an ideal world, I should be able to give instantaneous access me to my medical data to the persons treating so that they can quickly define the problem and provide the treatment.

This would be an improvement in the quality of care but also a contribution to sustainability of the system.

I want my medical data to move with me across Europe's borders in a safe and secure manner.

Emerging technologies such as cloud computing can help change the way we store, access and process such information, at the same ensuring utmost protection to this very sensitive personal information

Equally important,….

Innovation in healthcare can improve the quality of healthcare and deliver a more patient-centred care….

which is my second point.

Innovation in healthcare needs to be channelled to provide better quality care, and the best possible treatment and cure to each and every patient.

Let me give you an example. The EU funded a project in Germany, where researchers developed an ICT-based model for the long-term treatment of patients with chronic heart diseases.

Instead of monitoring patients' heart at the hospital, this project monitored 130 patients remotely, by installing the necessary equipment in patients' homes.

This resulted in cutting the number of days patients spent in hospital by almost 70% At the same time, it raised the quality standard of healthcare and the well being of patients and their families.

Another example are electronic medical prescriptions.

Whenever handwritten prescriptions are replaced by ePrescriptions, lives are saved because one of the causes of medication errors is eliminated at a stroke.

Innovation in healthcare also means developing the best medicines and medical devices in the most efficient manner to ensure treatment to all Europeans.

When one talks about treatment, one needs to realise that each patient is different. Often the best cure for the same disease can vary from one patient to the next.

This is where innovation can help provide solutions tailor made to each patient. Genetic technology already allows scientists to use patients' genetic information to determine the right drug and the right dose.

What I want to say here is that innovation in healthcare – in all its different forms - has the potential to deliver better care, better access to healthcare, safer treatment and, overall, more comfort for patients.

However, when I talk about this, one of the reactions is "but where will we find money for all this?"

Which leads me to my third point.

I believe innovation has the potential to make health systems more efficient and sustainable.

There is growing pressure to show that public money is being wisely spent for the benefit of patients and the public purse alike.

And there is no denying that Innovation in healthcare costs money.

But, duplication of efforts, un-efficient use of health resources or loss of medical data - also cost money.

This is why we need to invest in innovation in ways that improve treatment for patients and also make healthcare systems more efficient.

I mentioned earlier how, by monitoring the heart rate of non critical patients from home, the number of days patients spent in hospital were cut by almost 70%, freeing up doctors and nurses time, and hospital space.

Extrapolate that on a National or European basis in the context of capital costs to increase bed capacity, demands on the scarce health human resources, the running cost of hospitals, patient transportation, etc.

So the money invested in monitoring home equipment will pay off.

As I mentioned before safe, secure and quick access to health records and data can saves lives – it also saves money.

If all patients had an Electronic Health Record, many medical tests would be avoided. This would translate into gains in storage costs, hospital equipment and again, human resources.

I believe innovation can trigger efficiency gains that can help secure the quality and sustainability of health systems.

Another facet of innovation is Health Technology Assessment.

The Commission is supporting co-operation on HTA so that Member States use the same core methods and avoid duplication of effort and cost.

Our aim is to foster the uptake of HTA - for pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and also to health interventions and procedures – to assess the comparative advantage of a new technology vis-à-vis patient outcome or cost effectiveness.

Ladies and gentlemen,

To reach Europe's goal of building a smart, sustainable and inclusive Europe by 2020, we need to explore innovative solutions for the future.

In this context, the European Commission has just launched an Innovative Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing with the overall objective of increasing the number of years that citizens can expect to live in good health by two years.

The Partnership will mobilise actors from both the private and public sectors and from all levels of government to explore innovation; in a way that responds to the needs of Europeans, as well as to the sustainability of health systems.

I am committed to making this an example of innovation in the way we do things also at the EU level.

Together with Neelie Kroes, we can make of this a test case not only for health but for other sectors where innovation will be key to unlocking sustainable growth across Europe.

I have made innovation in healthcare a priority during my mandate.

Not because innovation is trendy; not because innovation is an objective in itself; but because it is a means to serve patients and a means to drive the economy on which we ultimately all depend.

Let me end with a quote from somebody very familiar to us. It was Bill Gates who recently said, "Never before in history has innovation offered promise of so much, to so many, in so short a time."

Thank you very much.

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