Shaping the future of healthcare in Europe

European healthcare

The EIT Health Think Tank Chair, Finn Børlum Kristensen speaks to SciTech Europa Quarterly about the forum for shaping the future of healthcare in Europe.

Optimising Innovation Pathways: Future Proofing for Success

The EIT Health Think Tank is a forum for experts and thought leaders working in collaboration to shape the future of healthcare in Europe by identifying the barriers and opportunities that will either aid or impede the widespread adoption and uptake of healthcare innovation. These discussions take place both on a pan-EU and regional basis, in the format of a series of working groups and roundtable meetings.

Conclusions and recommendations stemming from Think Tank discussions are used to ensure that EIT Health’s strategy and activities focus on what matters most. The Think Tank also guides EIT Health Public Affairs efforts aimed at contributing to health policy and healthcare system improvements across Europe.

The EIT Health Think Tank Chair, Finn Børlum Kristensen speaks to SciTech Europa Quarterly about the current barriers in bring digital health innovation to the market and the importance of speeding up health innovation, amongst other things.

What are the current barriers to bringing digital health innovation to the market?

Innovations in health are becoming more complex and, today, are often coming from unchartered waters with the rise of digital solutions. Such solutions face not only the usual barriers to bringing innovation to the market, but also the challenge of fitting into existing evaluation frameworks, which have historically been shaped to accommodate traditional hardware medical devices and pharmaceuticals. The difficulties that many innovators face when looking to bring innovations including digital solutions to market lie predominantly within two challenges.

The first challenge is that Europe is still a scattered landscape for healthcare adoption, and innovators need to adapt for each local ecosystem and requirements – most nations each have their own approach to assessing and purchasing solutions for health and that brings difficulties for innovators because, firstly, they must navigate many systems which are often quite different, and secondly they must spend a lot of time and resources in preparing for such separate assessments. Indeed, despite concerted efforts, we are still some way off having a harmonised and standardised health technology assessment process. For small companies and start-ups, this represents a significant barrier as they simply don’t have the insights and resources available to allow them to gather the vast and diverse amounts of evidence to complete such assessments

The second challenge is the difficulty we have in handling different categories of health technology including how and what should be assessed in digital technology in health. Digital technology is rapidly advancing, and it often advances much faster than the regulators or reimbursement bodies can respond to with guidance and evaluation. Indeed, how can such authorities plan governance for a technology they may not even know exists right now – applications such as machine learning and Artificial Intelligence are good examples. This is why we often see that those working within the industry will have the opinion that the pathway for medicines is much clearer – we have learned, over a long history, how to assess vaccines and medicines, but even the types of compounds that are being assessed in these areas are drastically changing from chemicals to biologicals and gene therapies. Moreover, digital solutions on the other hand, can be anything from a mobile app, to an imaging software, to a robotic system.

The EIT Health Think Tank will focus on the topic of ‘Optimising Innovation Pathways: Future Proofing for Success’, for which I am the Chair. Within this topic, we will drive analysis and insight into the innovation pathways across multiple European regions and provide recommendations for either removing or overcoming barriers in order to speed up the process of delivering innovations to patients and citizens with a focus on medical devices, in vitro diagnostics, and digital health solutions.

We discussed the barriers in further detail in early May at an EIT Health digital town hall, of which you can find a recording on the EIT Health website.

What is the importance of speeding up the innovation process for the widespread adoption of healthcare innovation?

The average lifetime of a medical device has been estimated at 18 months. Digital solutions outside health have even shorter lifetimes, with apps often being updated with new every week. Speeding up the process will ultimately benefit patients and citizens – not only will it mean that health innovations with significant potential may reach people quicker, but it may also encourage entrepreneurs to turn their talent to health. The conversations that we have already had with start-ups and entrepreneurs have made it clear that some may be deterred by the lengthy and complex path to market. It has been suggested that the path should be more transparent and manageable to innovators.

Allowing for quicker adoption of innovation also has the potential to reduce burden on health systems (both in terms of resources and costs). Many digital solutions have the potential to drive efficiencies. This, of course, is an important challenge we currently face in practically every health system across the world as we are under intense demand due, in large part, to ageing populations, chronic disease, and limited healthcare budgets.

Finally, there is the challenge of accessibility; patients and citizens in different regions may or may not benefit from innovations due to their geography. This is because innovators may focus their efforts (at least initially) on the countries, or even regions in countries which offer a pathway that is clearer and faster. They may choose to not pursue countries with more cumbersome or non-transparent pathways, which does not represent large economic markets, which poses an issue of accessibility of innovation to all EU citizens.

How will the EIT Health Think Tank support the challenge of speeding up innovation pathways for the benefit of patients and citizens?

The EIT Health Think Tank will provide a deep dive into the pathways that exists today and seek to outline recommendations for how we can work to improve and future proof such pathways. We are in the early stages of the Think Tank process, and the next step will be to conduct round tables in each of our seven regions over the summer and autumn to gain local perspectives from many European countries including Germany, Spain, the Nordics, and UK. These round tables will:

  • Assess the current state of play of the effectiveness of existing innovation pathways in each relevant region to understand the ability of innovators to move through the pathway, from idea generation to market entry, in a timely manner, while guaranteeing the evidence needed on effectiveness and safety
  • Identify the criteria that need to be met at each stage of the innovation pathway, in order to inform and expedite the process, which would help improve the likelihood of a successful positive reimbursement decision and subsequent uptake and adoption of innovation
  • Make recommendations to improve or streamline the innovation pathway where change could be feasible. These recommendations may apply to any relevant stakeholders – government, policy makers, regulators, payors, clinicians, etc.

We will analyse what is happening at the pan-European level and draw our conclusions in a White Paper which we aim to release at the end of 2019. Conclusions from the Think Tank will guide the EIT Health partners and wider network on future initiatives that can help to optimise the path of innovations in health to the benefit of patients and society in Europe.

How will EIT Health engage policymakers on the topic?

Once we have completed the EIT Health Think Tank process, the White Paper will outline a set of recommendations based on our findings and analysis and will include those that are relevant to policy makers across Europe.


Finn Børlum Kristensen


EIT Health Think Tank

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