The human touch in a digital world (P2)

Digitalising health services:  are we ensuring equity and the human touch?

The plenary started off with the opening remarks from Dr. Hans Kluge (nominee Regional Director-elect for the WHO European Region) sharing his thoughts and views on digitalisation. His remarks were echoed by the panel in the discussion that followed.

Digital technologies are redefining public health and health services. Dr. Hans Kluge is committed to working toward accessible and affordable digital health services across all 53 member states within the European Region. However, he highlighted the importance of accessible and affordable digital services for all. Are we so enthusiastic in digitalising our health services that we fail to oversee if services are accessible and affordable to all, thus risking to push more people into poverty? Are we ensuring that digital health services are accessible to all? Are we engaging civil societies and the public and are we including their views and thoughts in the design of digital health services? Digital health tools present new opportunities to current challenges. Nevertheless, we should be careful that we do not get blinded by this digital transformation and forget about the human touch. 

We need ethically and morally responsible policies to ensure that no one is left behind!  This requires a good governance framework across all European member states, which is built in partnership with patient groups, health professionals, and the general public. We need more evidence on the safety and efficacy of digital interventions, most notably for artificial intelligence – so that we ensure that we don’t lose the human touch. 

Think about the last time you introduced a new intervention or service, based on digital health. Did you get your patients’ views about this? Did you check whether it would be accessible to all your patients? Did you ascertain that it would not undermine their safety, privacy, security and trust? Did you make sure that your patients are not being deprived from the human touch? If not, think again. It doesn’t mean that digital health is not the solution, but rather that an alternative is required.

Technology can bring us together or break us apart. It all depends on why we choose to implement new technology (is the decision based on our needs, our patients’ needs or both?) and the way we design the service (ensuring an element of human touch and making sure that the service is accessible and affordable to all).

Technology should not steer us away from the human touch in patient/provider interactions, but free up time and facilitate better and increased human to human interaction in healthcare.  “We must make conscious changes for a human touch in the digital world and make sure that no one is left behind” Dr. Hans Kluge

This Blog was written by the Young Gasteiner Joseph Grech

Horizon Europe (L4)

This is the time to drive change!

If you want change, you have to understand the process and know what you can influence at what point in time. Now is one of those rare moments for European research and innovation where achieving change is not only possible, but also promoted – we have a new European Commission, and the details and budget of Horizon Europe (the next research programme for EU research and innovation 2021-2027) are not finalised yet. This is the time. This is the time we can make a difference.

The Cluster Health of Horizon Europe in a nutshell

The guiding principle is that ‘everyone has the right to timely access to affordable healthcare of good quality. The objective of this new framework would be to tackle emerging and existing health challenges while supporting EU’s industry competitiveness. The cluster health is organised in 6 pillars (health through the life course, environment and social health determinants, non-communicable and rare diseases, infectious diseases, tool technologies and digital solutions for healthcare, healthcare systems) and has some cross cutting topics (digitalisation and personalisation, health economics, patient centricity).

Strategic priorities in EU research, what do we want?

Industry: Research is not easy. But in order to be competitive globally it is important to understand patients’ needs and market needs and create partnership that can represent this synergies and complexities. ‘’The healthcare of tomorrow needs a radical change, an innovative approach and to redefine business models to make full use of existing innovation’’. Quicker access for patients to innovative products.

Civil society: Horizon 2020 invested 80 billion of tax payer money, however the societal impact, what was the improvement in everyone’s daily life, is not fully clear and evident. The key elements for the next programme should be: Societal engagement and governance, Accountability and Innovation that is safe, sustainable and affordable.

Member states: We need to speak to each other and learn to speak the same language and have common goals. Research has to be meaningfully translated so that policy makers and healthcare providers can implement it.

National healthcare system: Orient Horizon Europe towards where the biggest unmet need for citizens is. This would also make results more tangible especially when valuing the results of the innovation at the end. We need to have innovative reimbursement mechanism and new models to deliver care.

Science and academia: We need to create a real sense of working together, collaboratively among different stakeholders. It will take money and time to facilitate actual collaboration, it is important but it will take time.

Where Horizon Europe could have the biggest impact? Outcomes (classic ones but also patient reported measures) and Cross-cutting topics (e.g. environmental health).

This Blog was written by the Young Gasteiner Eliana Biundo

The Economy of Wellbeing is good for business; and that makes it EVERYONE’S business! (F4)

Wellbeing is Big Business. The hard core “rock and roll” lifestyle has slowly been shunned in favour of antioxidant turmeric shots and rejuvenating 6am yoga sessions. Move over “Sex Sells”…  there’s a new message in town: “Wellbeing Sells”. But Wellbeing is more than just eating kale and wearing lycra.

In line with this year’s EHFG theme of disruption, and the Economy of Wellbeing approach introduced by Finland’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union, in the session organised by the Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health and the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies we were encouraged to “view wellbeing through a new lens.” To move beyond the concept of “Health in all Policies” to “Wellbeing in all Policies”. But by its very nature, wellbeing is a slippery beast. It is a broad an expansive concept that means many things to many people. As such, it is hard to nail it down as a quantifiable measure.

However, the need for an alternative measurement “beyond GDP” to measure economic performance and societal success is well recognised. Indeed, New Zealand is the first western country to design its entire budget with wellbeing at the centre, and instruct its ministries to design policies with the common goal of enhancing this core principle. So how do we place the Economy of Wellbeing at the core of economic decision making? After a quick vote our group identified what they felt were the two most important issues to address:

  1. Intersectoral/interministerial collaboration
  2. Evidence on the impact of wellbeing on economic productivity

Put simply: we need to work together toward a common goal of enhancing wellbeing, and we need to demonstrate to stakeholders and decision makers that economic growth and wellbeing go hand in hand. Sceptics may argue that wellbeing is an intrinsic, personal value, and this enhanced focus on wellbeing in policy is more “style over substance” – an attempt to cash in on the trendy new wellbeing buzz word. However, the OECD has played a prominent role in developing the notion of “multi-dimensional well-being” measures, through creating instruments such as the OECD Well-being Framework as a means of conducting research and allowing for comprehensive measurement.

There was general recognition that the responsibility for wellbeing does not lie solely with one government department or sector. Despite being inextricably linked to physical health, good wellbeing spans much further than good health systems. Amongst many others, wellbeing relies on good working environments, accessible transport links, access to green spaces and social support and inclusion across the life course. “Wellbeing in All Policies” provides a more umbrella-like term to unite all policies to allow for a reinforced and interdependent focus on Wellbeing.

Particularly in this time of political and social unrest, investing in the wellbeing of our citizens is both a moral and economic imperative. Building a strong evidence base for the economic benefit of wellbeing allows for a solid argument from which to harness the power of industry and the private sector.  Politicians and policy makers have a strong role to play in this movement; however we must not overlook the power of a strong public facing element to any campaign. Putting wellbeing on the political agenda is as much a cultural shift as it is an economic and political one. 

This Blog was written by the Young Gasteiner Anna Mckeever

Is our vaccine ecosystem healthy enough? Understanding complexity, challenges and the need for collaboration (F6)

(From left to right: P. Kanavos, W. Philipp, A. Pana, R. Horta, A. Gaudioso, A. Kort, N. Azzopardi-Muscat)

It is unacceptable that in 2017 there are still children dying of diseases that should long have been eradicated in Europe. Children in Romania or Italy must have the same access to measles vaccines as children in other European countries. No ifs, no buts. This is why we are working with all Member States to support national vaccination efforts. Avoidable deaths must not occur in Europe.’ [1]

With these words, the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker opened a ‘new season’ of EU-driven focus on vaccination during his 2017 State of the Union Address. This paved the way for a number of important initiatives including the Council Recommendation on strengthened cooperation against vaccine-preventable diseases [2] or the launch of the EU Joint Action on Vaccination [3].

It is therefore clear that vaccination is one of today’s core issues at EU level. However, are all the stakeholders involved in the dialogue fully aware of the complexity of the vaccine ecosystem? The session, co-organised by MSD and Sanofi, tried to address this question with an interesting mix of experts’ inputs, from citizens to industry to institutions and healthcare professionals, bringing up some key issues and solutions, including the need for stronger (and trained) healthcare professionals involvement; how to improve access to vaccines and vaccines-related information; threats and opportunities coming from the social media world; fragility and interdependence of the ecosystem and the importance and intricacy of innovation, supply and demand.


The informative first part ignited what can be considered as the highlight of the session. Thanks to an innovative role-play-based format [4], the audience in the room had the chance to actually ‘switch hats’ and act as representative of one of the eight stakeholders group defined as driving forces of the European vaccine ecosystem: civil society, EU institutions, Ministries of Health, healthcare professionals, manufacturers, procurement actors and regulators. This translated to a very practical overview of how the different forces are extremely dependent on each other’s support to achieve their goals and on how any action has a tangible impact on the other drivers of the system – as coverage rates, access, supply, affordability – especially in the situation of limited resources that characterise our health systems.

To conclude, the session confirmed again – in quite a practical way – the importance of a multi-stakeholder approach to healthcare as a fundamental way to catch the complexity of our health systems, together with the need of understanding different needs, objectives and forces in play. Happenings like Gastein surely help foster this vision but as healthcare stakeholders we should do our best to ‘walk the talk’ in our daily activities, having in mind that everything that we do has an impact on the quality of life of millions of people.

This blog post was written by the Young Gasteiner Michele Calabro

[1] PRESIDENT JEAN-CLAUDE JUNCKER’S State of the Union Address 2017. https://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_SPEECH-17-3165_en.htm

[2] Council Recommendation of 7 December 2018 on strengthened cooperation against vaccine-preventable diseases https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/GA/TXT/?uri=OJ:JOC_2018_466_R_0001

[3] European Joint Action on Vaccination, https://eu-jav.com/

[4] Organised and moderated by Pandemos.eu – the Public Health Gaming Company www.pandemos.eu

Medical use of cannabis and cannabinoids: is the grass always greener? (L2)

Perhaps a contentious issue to discuss over lunch, but the expert panel provided substantial food for thought. The increasing use of cannabis and cannabinoids for medical and recreational purposes, including their pros and cons as potentially alternative treatments for pain management, is an on-going debate.

What was clear from the expert panel presentations and the discussions was that there are not only mixed opinions on the topic, but also mixed messages going around, and mixed regulatory frameworks in place.

It is a complex topic, and one that will need more time in order to establish a clear consensus – not least because, as one participant highlighted, we are talking about 100’s of substances under the label of medical cannabis. Also, more education and awareness on the different substances are needed by professionals, patients and the public. However, there is increasing evidence being generated on this topic; for example, Philip McGuire from Kings College London, presented some research on the use of cannabinoids as a novel treatment in mental health. In addition, Paola Kruger from EUPATI, Italy, mentioned some new research underway in Italy on the use of medical cannabis for multiple sclerosis patients, which is actively trying to capture the patient perspective. She, and others in the session, emphasised the important of valuing improvements in quality of life and patient-perceived outcomes/ symptom relief alongside clinical outcomes.

To move the debate forward, a credible public health message on the benefits and concerns around the use of medical cannabis, as well as street cannabis is urgently needed, as well as careful monitoring of any actions taken.

This Blog was written by Young Gasteiner Lucinda Cash-Gibson