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10/11 October 2012 – Health First Europe attended the MedTech Forum 2012 which aimed to present the value of the medical technology industry for health systems across Europe. Launching the new MedTech Alliance between the European Diagnostics Manufacturers Association (EDMA) and Eucomed, the three day event brought together high-level policymakers, hospital managers, patients and industry to discuss the challenges facing all health stakeholders as well as offering potential solutions.

The leaders of the organising associations (Eucomed, EDMA and the MedTech Alliance), opened the event discussing priorities for the associations for providing quality of care to patients during difficult economic times. Guy Lebeau, Eucomed Chairman, declared that, “People need to understand the value of the industry for healthcare” which will “serve patients across the EU.”  EDMA President, Jurgen Holtz, expressed that he believes the greatest issues of importance to health systems include patient safety, health technology assessment and the recent proposal for a new Medical Devices Directive. The new CEO for the Alliance, Serge Bernasconi, said his real focus will be making the alliance between the two associations “work.”

Presenting an overview of the medical technology industry and the current challenges for the industry and health systems in general, Chris Llewellyn from McKinsey and Company discussed how the nature of healthcare spending will change despite growth in healthcare spending for the last 100 years. He suggested that there will be a “re-definition of every stakeholder in healthcare” because of the change in spending, and this change will be seen through the re-designing of care along the patient pathway.  Following Mr. Llewellyn, Marc Campbell from the National Institute of Clinical Excellence in the UK (NICE) discussed how his organisation evaluates and advises about the value proposition of new health technologies through health technology assessments (HTA). He clarified that NICE does not make determinations about which health technologies are made available to patients, NICE only evaluates the value of those technologies for patients, professionals and health systems. Mr. Campbell suggested that a European-wide assessment for a particular technology would be very difficult given the fact that HTAs should inform on the value of a new technology for a particular health system.

Following the overview on the state of health technologies, Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner John Dalli provided his vision and plan for sustainable and innovation-friendly healthcare policy in Europe. Commissioner Dalli re-iterated his belief that health is an investment, focusing on Commission initiatives and policies that further support investment in healthcare. He discussed the Commission’s initiative on Active and Healthy Ageing, which aims to “translate innovative ideas into tangible products and services that really respond to the needs of older Europeans” as well as highlighting the need for smart investment in health to facilitate “efficiency gains to help secure the quality and sustainability of healthcare systems.” He also discussed the Commission’s proposals for new medical device regulation and insisted that the Commission’s objective is to further improve the protection of health and safety for patients. Commissioner Dalli made clear that the Commission believes smart innovation and smart investment will be the keys to more efficient healthcare in the future.

Martin Whitehead, Director of the GSMA Europe, built upon the issue of innovation discussed by Mr. Dalli and spoke about the uptake of mHealth technology as a support mechanism for sustainable healthcare. He highlighted the importance of confidence in mHealth technologies in order for patients and consumers to feel secure in using technology to support their health.  Giving the patient perspective with regards to using medical technologies such as mHealth, Sebastian Hauck, Founder of Adventure Diabetes, demonstrated the enormous need for interoperability as he showed the audience the multitude of devices he carries with him at all times to monitor and care for his Type 1 Diabetes.  He clearly showed how patient quality of life could be improved by integrating device connections, but he also explained that the technologies he uses to support his active lifestyle are often not reimbursed and most of them he paid entirely out of his own pocket.  The reimbursement barrier was further discussed by Gerald McAteer, Global Director of Health Policy at Siemens Healthcare, who discussed the need for common incentives amongst health stakeholders in order to facilitate greater adoption of mHealth in health systems.  He suggested that barriers besides reimbursement include access to information about these technologies, as well as including patients as partners in the development of technologies.

With the release of the European Commission’s proposal for new regulation on medical devices, much of the discussion during MedTech 2012 focused on how these proposals would impact health systems. Director General in the Directorate-General for Health and Consumers, Paola Testori Coggi gave on overview of the new proposed legislation with a particular emphasis on how it will include increased involvement of patients and professionals through greater information and transparency. The new proposal will also make much of the information on medical technologies available to patients and professionals through EUDAMED. Susanna Palkonen, Vice-President of the European Patients’ Forum, agreed that the new proposals are more inclusive of patients and suggested that the new regulation should allow for medical technologies to “support patients to become co-managers of their own health.”   She also highlighted the need to ensure access to high quality care as well as having information on all aspects of care of which health literacy remains a key component.

Much of the technology in the medical device sector occurs through research and development, making the video address from Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, Directorate General for Research and Innovation, an interesting overview of how the EU is supporting the development of health technologies for patients. Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn explained that EU support for the medical technology industry has been almost €1 billion over the last 7 years and that DG Research intends to continue fostering innovation in healthcare through the Framework Programme Horizon 2020. She declared, “Count on EU’s support for improving the innovation framework” which will include greater access to financing.

Overall, the event showcased both the opportunities and challenges for health systems due to economic austerity measures, rising demand for healthcare and new regulation. While there clearly are difficulties involved in financing high quality of care for patients with current public budgetary constraints, many of the speakers also discussed the fact that the economic crisis will force health systems to change which may also be a great opportunity to realise new systems of care and improved quality and safety for patients.