Evidence-based policies in the era of data-driven healthcare

What role does e-Health play in territorial development? How can digital transformation policies contribute to territorial cohesion across Europe, at city, regional and national level? These were some of the questions that were addressed during the ESPON Conference The Future of Digital Health – Design evidence-based policies in the era of data-driven healthcare”. 

The event brought together in Oulu, representatives of the European institutions, policy-makers and relevant stakeholders from the national and regional healthcare ecosystems to reflect on the link between the digital transformation of healthcare systems and territorial development, with the objective of inspiring strategic orientations and fostering the integration of the territorial dimension within different policies at all governance levels.

Mr Kyösti Oikarinen – chair of the City of Oulu Executive Board – and Ms Sinikka Salo – leader of change in reforming social welfare and healthcare – shared the welcome session of this ESPON Conference and explained why the conference is important for the Finnish Government: “How does the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health take into consideration the territorial dimension of health policies when designing them? What are the role and potential of e-health services in Finnish health care in the future?” Mr Martin Gauk – project expert at ESPON EGTC – presented the targeted analysis eHEALTH - Future Digital Health in the EU”, a new research topic of ESPON, highlighting that linking health policies and spatial planning is not always easy. e briefly presents  

Ms Sinead Mac Manus, Senior Programming Manager and the lead for Digital Health in Nesta's Health Lab, has presented NESTA innovative methods in digital health and people-powered health: Why digital health with people, by people and for the people is the future?”.

The first session “Transforming healthcare across the European Union: policies, practices and visions” have set the scene of the European policy framework related to the digital transformation of healthcare systems, bringing the concrete experience of regional players working on its value chains and ecosystems. Ms Birgit Morlion from the well-being and ageing unit of EC DG Connect, refers to the “digital transformation of health and care in the EU” and how the European Commission is supporting innovation and the uptake of digital solutions for the post-2020 programming for the digital transformation of Health and Care – empowering citizens and building a healthier society. Interventions from the Catalonia region (Spain), Campania region (Italia) and the City of Oulu (Finland) brought the concrete experience of regional players working on transforming the healthcare value chains and ecosystems and the actions being taken to deploy reforms on the health system.

Ms Lucia Medori, from the European Health Parliament, closed the morning session by sharing some policy recommendations and the three key priorities to build the EU Health Data Ecosystem: connect, share and protect. While health data is essential to trigger digital innovation and foster disease prevention and care, this comes with unprecedented challenges and opportunities. The European Health parliament calls for the EU and its countries to build a data ecosystem able to promote healthy societies by connecting healthcare settings and sharing data for research while protecting citizens’ data.

Mr Peter Varnai, the leader in Health & Life Sciences at Technopolis Group, presented the ESPON targeted analysis “eHEALTH - Future Digital Health in the EU” focusing on the opportunities and challenges of eHealth services in the EU, particularly looking at individual journeys taken by four countries – Bulgaria, Estonia, Finland and Slovenia. He shared his vision that “Progress in digitalising healthcare across the EU is being achieved but a coherent strategy to achieve equitable access to health services for all EU citizens is still a major challenge”.

The session “Transnational and cross-border cooperation via evidence-based policy-making”, by Mr Ville Sirvio, CEO of the ‘Nordic Institute for Interoperability Solutions’ focused on the Nordic cooperation in cross-border data exchange. He presented to the audience the current status of cross-border cooperation between Estonia and Finland and other aspects related to the interoperability of data between healthcare systems and X-Road: ‘how could X-Road be utilized in the health sector as an open source solution for data exchange?’. Ms Hannalore Taal, from the Estonian Ministry of Social Affairs, continued this session with an overview of the cross-border cooperation activities between Estonia and Finland to ensure health data exchange between countries for the benefit of their citizens, via two main collaboration areas – cross-border exchange of ePrescriptions and X-road cooperation. Ms Karolien De Bruine (East Netherlands) and Mr Dirk Llees (Limburg) focused on the S3 strategies for personalised medicine and highlighted the central role played by regional smart specialization strategies in the development of stronger regional ecosystems around the healthcare domain, towards a paradigm shift in health care systems.

Ms Maritta Perälä-Heape, Director at the Centre for Health and Technology from the University of Oulu, moderated the last session of the day, bringing the concrete experience of Finland – a forerunning city in the field of digital healthcare, integrating health and social policies, to discuss the future of care: “How can digital health services offer better healthcare?”. The Oulu Health unique ecosystem involves a wide range of stakeholders, including more than 600 health companies and 200.000 inhabitants. Ms Minna Komu presented to the audience the OuluHealt ecosystem and particularly the OuluHealth Labs – an innovation, testing and development environment for companies and healthcare professionals. Ms Pia Liljamo focused on the Virtual Hospital & Health Village, a health service developed together with patients that provides information and support for all, care for patients, and tools for professionals that will support access to health services and harmonise care processes. Mr Timo Alalääkkölä has presented the OuluHealth Labs Concept which can bring good ideas into development and testing stages.

The promising message of the event was that e-health services proved their meaningfulness and citizens are motivated to use them. And while e-services cannot fully replace face-to-face services, they can quite well complement the range of existing services. 

You can find more information about the event, photos, and presentations, on the page of the event