EIT Health urges European healthcare providers to embrace AI and technology after the pandemic highlights fragility of healthcare systems

19 Apr 2021 | Network Updates | Update from EIT Health
These updates are republished press releases and communications from members of the Science|Business Network

EIT Health, a network of best-in-class health innovators and part of the European Institute of Technology, has launched a new AI report from its Think Tank, outlining the urgent need for a post-pandemic technological revolution to prevent EU health systems from struggling over the next decade.

The report concludes that AI and digital solutions are urgently needed, with healthcare workforces already straining to meet demand. This pressure is set to increase given estimations that by 2050 one in four people in Europe will be over the age of 65 and will likely have complex healthcare needs – which means only a proportion of additional years will be spent in good health. 

Progress in medical science has raised life expectancy, however as longevity increases, healthcare systems face increasing demand, with patients having more complex needs, costs rising and the workforce struggling to meet demand. Without major structural and transformational change, healthcare systems will become unsustainable, and the European promise of universal healthcare will be threatened.

Building on a series of roundtables exploring the topic ‘Healthcare Workforce and Organisational Transformation with AI’, today’s new 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 says “The outcomes 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 from EIT Health 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 a wider EU level, EIT Health is pushing for a more robust data infrastructure for Europe, to ensure member states and healthcare systems can share data, allowing experts to track diseases, diagnose more quickly and develop new and improved AI-based solutions.

Despite global economic growth predicted to create 40 million new health sector jobs by 2030, the World Health Organization predicts there will be a 9.9 million shortfall of clinicians, nurses and midwives globally over the same period. Health workforce imbalances and shortages are a major concern in the European region. There is, therefore, 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 advances in AI and technology can be of immense benefit to current healthcare systems and allow front-line workers to spend more time on patient care. 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. Activities that currently occupy between 20 to 80 per cent of doctor and nurse time can be streamlined or even eliminated by using AI.

But, for these benefits to become embedded within healthcare, existing systems will need to undergo significant change. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated adoption of AI in some areas, but broad impact remains sparse. Countries and regions are fragmented in their approach, so too are start-ups and the healthcare industry, and this is hindering uptake.

Looking ahead, EIT Health will continue supporting institutions to adapt, and can play a key role in upskilling and reskilling the healthcare workforce. Key to this will be facilitating the much-needed transparency and collaboration between innovators and practitioners that will support the successful scaling of AI across European healthcare, as well as engaging policy makers on legislative changes needed.

To find out more about EIT Health Think Tank and read the read the report in full, please visit https://thinktank.eithealth.eu/

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