n improved common EU health policy would not only be helpful – as has become more than clear against the background of the current pandemic – but is actually a downright vital necessity. Different approaches to the attempts at containment and treatment of the coronavirus, or the competing procurement of personal protective and urgently required medical equipment by Member States have led to new tensions in Europe. In consequence, the EU has become an almost completely uninvolved and expendable stakeholder, although situations like the current one are perfect opportunities to highlight the Union’s added value in a way that all of its citizens could not fail to notice.
We need cross-border strategies in Europe
According to the European agreements, health policy is a matter for each individual country. It must not be allowed to remain so. The reasons are obvious.
1. Pandemics do not respect national borders and must be fought jointly across them. Granted, as a European Commission agency, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control lists the national pandemic strategies of the Member States, but what is necessary are cross-border strategies and action plans.
2. Healthcare must not be allowed to be downgraded to a competition within the Union; the aim must in fact be a uniformly high standard for all. Otherwise, the result will be new socio-economic tensions on our continent.
2. EU freedom of movement and best-possible healthcare are two sides of the same coin. Reciprocal arrangements with mutual agreements to take over the cost of treatments in another country are inadequate for this; above all we need a common standard for the exchange of important health data.
3. The fast-paced development of the technical, and therefore, the medical possibilities is particularly great in healthcare. This also encompasses an economic policy component and the joint promotion of the digital health sector. It is a decisive factor for Europe as an innovation hub competing globally.
The usability of data for medical progress
Attempting to bring the differing healthcare systems throughout Europe in line with each other would be unrealistic and not at all necessary. There are other possibilities for better preparing for the future together. Today’s medical progress primarily rests on the usability of data: artificial intelligence to facilitate better diagnostic processes, personalised medical care for more customised services and treatments for all, as well as the use of all available information on each citizen to optimise their treatment. All of this can only be achieved with digitalised processes. A uniform data privacy and security standard on the basis of European principles is not an obstacle in this respect and can even become a successful export product in the global competition, provided it is applied correctly. However, it also calls for the realisation that data economy per se cannot be the right dictum.
The frantic search for a vaccine against the coronavirus not only calls for adequate financial means but also particularly for the large data volumes that modern research depends on. Hardly anyone would disagree with the use of available data in this context, and maybe it really is true that it takes minor or major catastrophes for people to review their thinking. If a law has just been passed in Germany that makes data initially available to government agencies only and not to the industry, that would be the opposite of what we – all over Europe – need. Most pharmaceutical as well as other medical research is carried out by private companies. We need more digital efforts in this sector if Europe wants to serve the people in the Member States.
Resolute European investment programmes for the digitalisation of GP surgeries hospitals, pharmacies as well as local healthcare authorities or national agencies – across the different systems – could rapidly advance us further. This calls for a uniform innovation and therefore also competition promoting framework for pharmaceutical and health services research as well as the offer of digital applications for physicians and patients. If the EU could successfully manage to identify the best aspects of the U.S. approach of “meaningful use” and adopt it throughout Europe, we would make major progress.