Vytenis Andriukaitis, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, has been one of the main speakers participating to the panel of Health in the Digital Society. Digital Society for Health, the high-level healthcare conference organized last month by the Estonian Presidency of the European Council. We have managed to get some thoughts from him on the state-of-the-art of e-Health policies in Europe and on how competencies could be better distributed among member states.
Here is the full transcript of our interview.
How can digitization improve the equality in terms of access to the healthcare services provided in the different EU member states? But there is also a matter of subsidiarity. What are the competencies at the European level and at a national level? Should the reform be undertaken at a transnational level or by the member states?
First of all, speaking about equality, today we have a lot of challenges which are named as social determinants in [of] health. Social determinants involve a lot of facts, for example people who are living in remote areas, the lack of doctors and so on. This means that e-Health tools can address issues for people who are staying in remote areas to connect people to their local nurses and practitioners. Of course, there is also the possibility to monitor people’s health with digital devices which can detect and monitor using parameters, apps, and sensors. These parameters can be sent to the nearest center to receive consultations or advice.
How to reduce inequalities today? The main issue is to guarantee equal access to treatments; second, the goal is to guarantee acceptable social prices for e-health services. We need to discuss this with member states to allow them to provide financial support to people who need to access to treatments. Of course equality, of course also social justice. Speaking of subsidiarity and the situation related to member states and EU competences we see the possibility to cooperate. Healthcare systems are in hands of member states, but no one of the member states can treat heart diseases or low prevalent diseases for example. This is why we just had a cross-border healthcare directive which allows member states to send their patients from one state to another, guaranteeing reimbursements. Today we have more than 300 hospitals which have joined their forces establishing the European References Networks, (ERNs) which are ready to provide consultation to establish virtual consultative boards, to send consultations – speaking about diagnosis, treatments and so on – to their colleagues who work in different member states. Subsidiarity and an additional added value at the European level are not confronting each other.
Do you think that a reform at the European level should imply also some powers to be transferred from member states to the EU in order to be more effective?
It is not about this. It is more about to encourage member states to cooperate and to use instruments enshrined in the Lisbon Treaty on health cooperation, such as providing better treatments for people using regional capacities.