A new EIT Health report has outlined the urgent need for a post-pandemic technological revolution, harnessing Artificial Intelligence (AI) and digital applications, to prevent EU healthcare systems from struggling over the next ten years.
Healthcare systems across the EU face increasing demand as longevity increases, with one in four people in Europe estimated to be over the age of 65 by 2050.
The EIT Health report concludes that AI and digital solutions are urgently needed to deal with this problem, as, without major structural and transformational change, healthcare systems will become unsustainable, and the European promise of universal healthcare will be threatened.
AI and digital in healthcare
The report identifies a range of focus areas that need to be addressed at an EU and national level, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, in order to maximise the potential of AI and technology in healthcare.
Jan-Philipp Beck, CEO at EIT Health said: “The outcome of the AI Think Tank Report has given us clear and consistent messages on how to drive AI and technology forward within European healthcare systems. We already know that AI has the potential to transform healthcare, but we need to work quickly and collaboratively to build it into current European healthcare structures.
“The challenge of the pandemic has undoubtedly helped accelerate growth, adoption and scaling of AI, as stakeholders have fought to deliver care both rapidly and remotely. However, this momentum needs to be maintained to ensure that benefits to healthcare systems are embedded long-term and help them to prepare for the future – something which will benefit all of us.”
Key recommendations include improving collaboration and exchange of best practice across the EU, building on existing networks and infrastructures to support AI integration, improving education and skills, and developing value-based financial models that incorporates AI and acknowledges the longer-term cost saving.
At the EU level, EIT Health is also pushing for a more robust data infrastructure for Europe, to ensure member states and healthcare systems can share data. This would allow experts to track diseases, diagnose more quickly, and develop new and improved AI-based solutions.
Health workforce imbalances and shortages are also a major concern in the European region and there is an urgent need not only to attract, train and retain more healthcare professionals, but also to ensure that their time is used where it adds most value – caring for patients.
The report highlights that advances in AI and technology can be of great benefit to healthcare systems; data from a joint EIT Health and McKinsey and Company published in 2020 highlighted that AI automation could help alleviate workforce shortages, accelerate the research and developments of life-saving treatments, and help reduce the time spent on administrative tasks.
Countries and regions are fragmented in their approach, as are start-ups and the healthcare industry, and this is hindering uptake of AI and digital in healthcare systems across the EU. EIT Health will continue supporting institutions to adapt, and can play a key role in upskilling and reskilling the healthcare workforce.