Europe’s Digital Dilemma

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Europe has big digital dreams. But in reality, it lags behind the current rulers – China and the USA. “We have to be at the table, and not just on the menu,” says Martin Seychell, Deputy Director-General for Health and Food Safety (DG SANTE) at the European Commission. I asked Martin Seychell about the priorities and current initiatives. Watch a short video.

Quotes from the video:

“Digital transformation is happening. The main failure is that we are only now realising that we have to be at the table, and not just on the menu. First of all, we have to understand that digitisation is not in itself the aim. “Digital” is a tool as countless other tools. However, “digital” offers us the possibility to achieve a paradigm shift.”

“We have been talking for many years about human-centred care. But in the past this was wishful thinking – patients had to go to a physical point to be treated. So a lot of things were dependent on where you lived, who you were, the distance to the place. Digital can change that.”

We always had a problem accessing all our health data, and digital can help remove the barriers. It can support different professions work together as a team, to provide a common glue, a common basis for information. Of course, there is great potential, but the challenge for the next few years will be whether we can translate this potential into practice.”

“We have to engage new players that are entering the healthcare sphere. In addition to the traditional players, the pharma companies, MedTech companies or companies from the ICT world can be a very powerful addition. But only as long as they also understand what the clear objectives of health systems in the European context are, as these companies are often non-European. They need to understand that issues such as equity and privacy are of great importance in Europe.”

“The fact that big tech companies, and also small ones like startups have an interest in healthcare is a very positive thing. They have knowledge, ideas and creativity. However, the most important thing is that they understand the principal values that underpin the healthcare system.”

“When it comes to the digitalisation of healthcare in Europe, there are a lot of challenges. First of all – interoperability. There is a risk that investments in healthcare could end up in what we call “white elephants” – parts that are not able to exchange data with other parts of the system. We need to have European standards.”

We need strong governance to ensure that people trust health data. People are fine with using their data for treatment or research objectives. What they are worried about is the abuse of data by using it by non-health actors for non-health purposes.”

“We are taking practical steps, for example, a cross-border directive. Some EU member states are exchanging data with each other. Soon more countries will join and start exchange also scans and lab results. Eventually, they will move on to exchange full health records.”

“We should make healthcare independent from a location – people who travel and in the rural areas could benefit most.”

This video and interview were recorded during the European Health Forum Gastein 2019.


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