- By Jamie Shea
Europe’s capacity to generate and accommodate innovation in healthcare is on a knife-edge. With increasing signs of division across the region, we risk falling short of the cohesion and the critical mass needed to generate and nurture innovation.
Europe does not lack ingenuity in medical innovation, but we may fail to follow through with the development and adoption of this science. What we need is a Europe that strives for more innovation with citizens who are active and healthy lifelong at its core. With the inevitable trend towards a growing over-65s population, it is especially important that innovation is targeted at maintaining this group in good health. If our senior people can enjoy an active and healthy ageing, they can make a significant contribution to the economy, their families and the local communities. The new Horizon Europe framework will foster public-private partnerships in clinical research, which will help retain innovation in Europe. Beyond this, European healthcare systems need to be more welcoming to the wider benefits of innovation.
Healthcare innovation is instrumental in meeting increasing expectations for patient-led care. In terms of cardiovascular diseases, recent advances in prevention and management have markedly reduced premature cardiovascular mortality. Today, however, a new reality is emerging. The sharp decrease in mortality is starting to level off in several high-income countries. More people are living longer with undiagnosed, chronic, debilitating heart conditions and gaining access to innovative medical solutions too late for optimal recovery.
If our senior people can enjoy an active and healthy ageing, they can make a significant contribution to the economy, their families and the local communities
While science has produced new minimally-invasive solutions – such as transcatheter heart valve repair and replacement – the path to adoption can be complex. Siloed communication, differing healthcare priorities and inadequate budget systems can hinder advancements for payers, providers, and innovators. We need to set integrated funding systems that can capture the benefit of healthcare innovation across the full patient pathway and not leave investment management to the hospital alone. Doing the latter slows down the adoption of life-saving innovations that dramatically improve patients’ lives as well as the way in which healthcare is delivered.
Instead, policymaking needs to encourage integrated care pathways focused on diagnosing and treating a disease rapidly, minimising the duration of the critically ill phase and ensuring that patients recover and return to their former quality of life without delay.
Integrated care pathways start with people being diagnosed promptly. As a result, they can be treated more rapidly. If patients are not treated right away, they suffer a debilitating condition for longer, which can sometimes lead to other complications. For instance, if you diagnose and treat a structural heart disease patient promptly, it can prevent them suffering long-term heart failure.
The less invasive a treatment, the more rapidly people can leave the hospital – avoiding the complications of long hospital stays such as AMR and HAI. The impact of those complications is real; a 2016 study by the National Audit Office in the UK stated that a 10-day hospital stay leads to a 10-year reduction in life expectancy for older people. And the sooner people are discharged from hospital, the sooner they can resume an active life, avoiding the inconveniences and costs associated with needing social care during a long recovery period.
Siloed communication, differing healthcare priorities and inadequate budget systems can hinder advancements for payers, providers, and innovators
Innovation usually involves replacing a traditional method with an effective and more efficient new way of doing things. For example, in structural heart disease, the 200-year-old stethoscope is the first step in diagnosis. Newer digital stethoscopes are far simpler to use and more accurate, which helps prevent unnecessary and costly referrals.
Once in the hospital system, innovation can play a significant role in ensuring a more efficient service and better management of patients’ health. Yet, there is still work to be done to convince payers that less invasive innovations which may initially be more expensive, can dramatically reduce lengths of hospital stays and recovery times.
There is a tendency to go for cheaper, more invasive procedures when managing diseases. This trend leads to longer hospitalisations which can cause all sorts of complications. However, if people’s quality of life is put at the centre of decision-making, we are more likely to opt for the minimally-invasive procedure which allow people to be active and healthy much sooner and longer.
Again, in the area of structural heart disease, there is evidence that innovation can transform patients’ lives and healthcare systems at the same time. The traditional treatment for heart valve disease is open heart surgery. This very successful procedure involves a hospital stay of up to two weeks and patients can fully recover sometimes in as little as three months. Yet, the new innovative procedure can achieve even more. It takes 45 minutes, patients can leave hospital within a few days and they are nearly ready to return to their normal lives. What makes this transformation even more remarkable is that most of these people are aged 75 and above.
To ensure that Europe becomes a world-leading development hub for innovation in healthcare, we need to introduce policies that incentivise fast adoption of innovation to be implemented via integrated care pathways. This involves healthcare systems being designed to adopt innovations which not only treat a disease but also transform the whole patient pathway from diagnosis to life after treatment. Europe is a unique hub for medical science. Let’s make sure that we transform the system in a way that benefits European patients.
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