How Europe should promote digital innovation in health and care

The European Commission has launched a public consultation on how Europe should promote digital innovation in health and care, for the benefits of citizens and health systems in Europe. The input will feed into a new policy Communication to be adopted by the end of 2017, as announced in the recent review of the Commission’s Digital Single Market strategy.

Mariya Gabriel and Carlos Moedas stated:

‘We are dedicated to improving European citizens’ quality of living by improving Europe’s health, care and research systems by using digital technologies to their full potential. This consultation will help us identify ways to offer citizens, medical professionals and researchers better access to health data, prevention, rapid response to pandemic threats, personalised treatments and care. We are considering new digital initiatives to deliver on the free movement of patients and data, to support the modernisation of national health systems, and to bring together scattered evidence and innovative knowledge from across Europe. At the heart of our policies, citizens and their wellbeing are our first priority.’

The consultation will collect information on three main pillars:

  1. Citizens’ secure access to their health data and the possibility to share it across borders, clarifying citizens’ rights and enhancing interoperability of electronic health records in Europe;
  2. Connecting and sharing data and expertise to advance research, personalise health and care, and better anticipate epidemics;
  3. Using digital services to promote citizen empowerment and integrated person-centred care.

Citizens, patient organisations, health and care professionals, public authorities, researchers, industries, investors, insurers and users of digital health tools are all invited to share their views via EU Survey until 12 October 2017.

Assessing pricing models for innovative medicines, access to healthcare and performance of primary care

The Expert Panel on effective ways of investing in health is preparing three opinions on priority topics of the EU health strategy: payment models for high-cost medicines, access to healthcare and the performance of primary care. The opinions will be ready in the second semester of 2017 and will feed into the further policy work of the Commission.

In the EU, the pharmaceutical legislation lays down harmonised regulatory standards and tools for the authorisation and supervision of medicines. However, efforts to invest on development and timely authorisation of innovative medicines face challenges, such as the sustainability of health systems, patient access and affordability.

In April 2017 the European Commission published a recommendation establishing the European Pillar of Social Rights. The recommendation includes a principle on access to good quality preventive and curative health care.

 

Strong primary care can contribute to consolidating the overall health system’s performance by providing affordable and accessible care, guiding patients through the health system to find the most appropriate care (substantially reducing avoidable hospital admissions), focusing on individual needs and offering tailored, patient-centred care.

For more information on the assessment of pricing models for innovative medicines, access to healthcare and performance of primary care from ec.europa.eu.

 

 

 

 

Public consultation on Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs)

The European Commission has asked SCHEER to assess the potential health risks associated with LED emissions in the general population. The review of the published research conducted by the Committee has resulted in valuable conclusions and identified certain gaps in the knowledge on potential risks to human health from LEDs.

The Committee concluded that there is no evidence of direct adverse health effects from LEDs in normal use (lightening and displays) by the healthy general population.

Vulnerable and susceptible population (young children, adolescent and elderly people) were studied separately. Children have a higher sensitivity to blue light. Although emissions may not be harmful, blue LEDs may be very dazzling and may induce photochemical retinopathy, which is a concern especially for children below three years of age. Moreover, elderly people may experience discomfort from exposure to LED systems, including blue LED displays.

Despite the existence of cellular and animal studies showing adverse effects of LED exposure, their conclusions derive from results obtained using exposure conditions that are difficult to relate to human exposures or using exposure levels greater than those likely to be achieved with LED lighting systems in practice.

Since the use of LED technology is still evolving, the Committee considers that it is important to closely monitor the risk of adverse health effects from long term LED use to the general population.

For more information on the public consultation of Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs).

 

International comparisions of health prices and volumes

Cross-country variation in health expenditure may be the result of differences in the prices of goods and services or differences in the volume of care, or a mix of both. Separating health spending into volume and price measures helps policy makers better understand the drivers of cross-country variations, and helps them decide what policy responses should be put in place to address health spending trends. Such policies may differ if, for example, a country’s high health care spending is due to relatively high volume of goods and services consumed or to the relatively high price a country pays for those goods or services.

The OECD have recently published new findings on these international comparisons.

To download the document on International comparisons of health prices and volumes from the oecd.org website

Antibiotic-resistant gonorrhoea on the rise

Each year, an estimated 78 million people are infected with gonorrhoea, which can infect the genitals, rectum, and throat. Complications of gonorrhoea disproportionally affect women and can include pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy and infertility, as well as an increased risk of HIV.

Data from 77 countries show that antibiotic resistance is making gonorrhoea more difficult, and sometimes impossible, to treat. Some countries – particularly high-income ones, where surveillance is best – are finding cases of the infection that are untreatable by all known antibiotics. These cases may just be the tip of the iceberg, as gonorrhoea is more common in lower-income countries.

Currently, in most countries, ESCs are the only single antibiotic that remain effective for treating gonorrhoea. But resistance to cefixime – and more rarely to ceftriaxone – has now been reported in more than 50 countries. As a result, WHO issued updated global treatment recommendations in 2016 advising doctors to give 2 antibiotics: ceftriaxone and azithromycin.

For more information about Antibiotic-resistant gonorrhoea on the who.int website

Pilot projects on Health Inequalities

The European Parliament funds a number of pilot projects designed to test the feasibility and usefulness of action, develop evidence-based strategies to address a problem, identify good practices, and provide policy guidance in the area of health inequalities.

One such pilot is VulnerABLE: Improving the health of those in isolated and vulnerable situations

It targets specific vulnerable and isolated populations such as children and families from disadvantaged backgrounds; those living in rural/isolated areas; those with physical, mental and learning disabilities or poor mental health; the long-term unemployed; the inactive; the ‘in-work poor’; older people; victims of domestic violence and intimate partner violence; people with unstable housing situations (the homeless); and prisoners.

Due to their circumstances, these groups may be more at risk of poor health and/or face barriers in accessing healthcare services. The project will assess their particular health needs and challenges, as well as identify best practices to support them and ultimately improve their health.

Initial research has found that unmet health needs are a significant factor for those living in vulnerable and isolated situations. For example:

  • Data from the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) show that in older people socioeconomic factors such as a lower level of education and lower income increase the likelihood of older people experiencing limitations to their mobility, and the prevalence of eyesight, hearing and chewing problems
  • Those living in rural areas are less likely than urban residents to seek the healthcare they need because of cost, distance, and/or a lack of health facilities and professionals
  • Most prisoners have pre-existing vulnerabilities, such as substance abuse and mental health needs, which overcrowding and poor hygiene in prison may make worse
  • Those with lower levels of education are more likely to have a lower life expectancy
  • Long-term unemployment and inactivity is associated with a range of poor health outcomes

Over its two-year lifetime, the ‘VulnerABLE’ project will create training materials and capacity-building workshops for national and regional authorities who deliver healthcare services and have a vital role to play in tackling health inequalities

For more information about Pilot projects to tackle Health Inequalities on the ec.europa.eu website

The ethics of PH surveillance

Public health officials regularly collect and analyse data to map disease, spot patterns, identify causes and respond to outbreaks. Surveillance, when conducted ethically, is the foundation for programs to promote human well-being at the population level and can contribute to reducing inequalities.

However, it is not without risks for participants and sometimes poses ethical dilemmas. It can lead to harm if people’s privacy is violated, or they are stigmatized on the basis of the information they provide about themselves.

The WHO have produced Guidelines on Ethical Issues in Public Health Surveillance – the first international framework of its kind. It outlines 17 ethical guidelines that can assist everyone involved in public health surveillance, including officials in government agencies, health workers, NGOs and the private sector.

To read the Guidelines on Ethical Issues in Public Health Surveillance

National mental health strategy in Sweden

The Swedish government has introduced a new national mental health strategy for 2016-2020. It is based on five focus areas identified as the most important to strengthen mental health and prevent mental illness:

  1. Prevention and promotion efforts
  2.  Accessible early interventions
  3. Focus on vulnerable groups
  4. Participation and rights
  5. Organization and leadership

Each focus area includes people of all ages – children, young people, adults, and the elderly. Just as the focus areas were developed in collaboration between many different stakeholders, the government emphasises that all development work in the field must be conducted simultaneously and collaboratively. The Public Health Agency of Sweden plays a leading role in this effort.

For more information about Sweden’s National Mental Health Strategy on the eurohealthnet-magazine.eu website

EU Action Plan on AMR

The EU has published its Action Plan to tackle Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) – a growing threat that is responsible for 25,000 deaths and a loss of €1.5 billion in the EU every year.

The plan includes guidelines for doctors, nurses, pharmacists, hospital administrators and others who play a role in antimicrobial use to promote their prudent use in people. These guidelines complement infection prevention and control guidelines which may exist at national level. In addition, the plan foresees more than 75 actions built on three main pillars:

  • making the EU a best-practice region
  • boosting research, development and innovation
  • shaping the global agenda

For more information on the Action Plan to tackle Antimicrobial Resistance on the ec.europa.eu website

The economic costs of unhealthy diets and low physical activity

Unhealthy diets and low physical activity contribute to many chronic diseases and disability; they are responsible for some 2 in 5 deaths worldwide and for about 30% of the global disease burden. Yet surprisingly little is known about the economic costs that these risk factors cause, both for health care and society more widely.

This study pulls together the evidence about the economic burden that can be linked to unhealthy diets and low physical activity.

The study’s findings are a step towards a better understanding of the economic burden that can be associated with two key risk factors for ill health and they will help policymakers in setting priorities and to more effectively promoting healthy diets and physical activity.

To download the report Assessing the costs of unhealthy diet and low physical activity from the euro.who.int websit