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From 12-14 October, Health First Europe attended the Eucomed MedTech Forum 2011 which focused on “Driving Innovation in European Healthcare.” The event brought together leaders from the medical technology industry in addition to high level participants from the European Commission, Member States and patient groups, to discuss how the industry can contribute to tackling the challenges faced by an ageing population, a shortage of healthcare professionals and the increasing constraints on healthcare budgets.

One of the main themes of the three day conference was the need for significant changes to occur in order to make current health systems more sustainable.  In that vein, the opening day of the event saw the publication of an Economist Report on “Future Proofing Western Europe’s Healthcare” where Paul Kiestra, Contributing Editor, Economist Intelligence Unit, discussed what five European countries have been doing in order to achieve this sustainability.  He concluded that while many reforms have shown benefits, the need to incorporate more extensive reforms remains in all five countries.  However, the intense attachment of citizens to the current system in every state is still a huge barrier to overcome in healthcare reform.

Following on the evidence presented by the Economist in its report, Eucomed Chairman Guy Lebeau and Eucomed C.E.O. John Wilkinson, together presented the medtech industry’s plan for the next five years entitled “Contract for a Healthy Future.” The plan, which focuses on five particular ambitions for the industry, discusses the need for industry to collaborate more with other health stakeholders and to better demonstrate the value of medical technology not just for policymakers and regulators, but for patients and healthcare professionals.

One of the highlights of the first day of the event included the participation of European Health and Consumer Protection Commission John Dalli who spoke on innovating in healthcare.  Commissioner Dalli emphasised the need for health to be seen as an investment – for employment, for research and innovation and for the healthy living of European citizens.  He discussed the Innovation Partnership and Active and Healthy Ageing (AHAIP) which he hopes will help drive smart investment and smart innovation in health.  He declared that for him, the focus of the AHAIP is to keep more and more elderly people in their homes, rather than in institutions. Mr. Dalli, however, clearly stated that, “My main and ultimate goal is to have equitable access to high quality healthcare services for European citizens.”

The last session of the first day saw contributions from industry, insurance, government and patients in a panel discussion regarding sustaining healthcare systems in Europe.  Much of the discussion focused on modifying current business models. However, Sophie Peresson, Regional Manager, International Diabetes Federation (IDF), clearly highlighted the need for industry to take account of end users needs when developing products so that technology reaches (and can be used by) the people it is developed for.

The second day of the conference focused on eHealth and innovation with particularly interesting presentations from the Director of the European Commission’s Information Society Unit (DG INFSO), Robert Madelin and a video from Vice President of the European Commission and Commissioner for the Digital Agenda, Neelie Kroes. Mr. Madelin encouraged industry to think about how medical technology can be used for individuals to drive their own improvement in health.  He expressed that, “Only 1 in 5 citizens in the OECD/BRIC countries has actively used something digital to manage their health. However, 75% of the people who have tried a technology to manage their health, believed that it significantly helped them.” Mr. Madelin was very clear that industry needs to continue to think about innovative ways to involve patients in managing their own care through personal medical devices.  In the same vein, Commissioner Kroes stated in her video that, “We must ensure technological solutions are developed and are then used.”  She also highlighted the need to better understand the needs of end users and to use the AHAIP to unlock Europe’s potential in this area.

Following the panel on innovation and the impact of the medtech industry, eHealth became the focus of discussions with contributions from the French Ministry of Health, the Danish Univeriteshospital og Svendborg Sygehus, Belgian mutialities, Microsoft, Continua and McKinsey.  The topic of eHealth was of great importance as governments, hospitals and industry highlighted the challenges they face with regards to the implementation of eHealth and making it a reality for patients. Anne-Kirstine Dyrvig explained that “Introducing telemedicine means introducing a new way of working” and suggested to delegates that they prepare for this in the implementation of eHealth services.  She also expressed the considerable need to involve healthcare professionals in the process.

The final session of the event looked at getting regulation and innovation right in Europe and produced a very interesting debate regarding the issue of patient safety in the determining a regulatory framework for medical devices.  The panelists included Director of Health and Consumer Affairs in the European Commission (DG SANCO) Jacqueline Minor, and Nicola Bedlington, the Director of the European Patients Forum (EPF).  Ms. Minor reiterated that regulation in medical technology “must not lose sight of patient safety” and must ensure “a balance between innovation and patient safety.”  As the representative of patient groups, Ms. Bedlington agreed and suggested that the recast of the Medical Devices Directive should be very considerate of this particular point.

Overall, the event established the new approach of the medical technology industry to work more closely with other health stakeholders to meet the challenges of the health sector today.  Through innovation and greater collaboration, industry believes that the demands and needs of patients can be met.