Debating Europe has already asked you what “European education” should look like, and we’ve also asked whether we can afford the “European social model” in an “Age of Austerity”. Last week, one of the members of the European Central Bank’s Executive Board told us that we urgently need to reform our economies in order to prepare for Europe’s ageing population. The future of public services in Europe, then, seems bleak.
Education, healthcare and welfare budgets are increasingly coming under pressure. One of our commenters, Leonardo, argued that:
Politics has taught people an unsustainable idea of what is reasonable (both in magnitude of requests and time of realisation); politics is able to ride this discontent but unwilling to tell the truth.
Others (such as Christos and Patrick) argued that cutting healthcare budgets would increase both inefficiency and inequality, leading to serious social problems in the future. Is there anything we can do, then, to preserve our standard of living whilst also cutting costs? We spoke to David Byrne, former EU Commissioner for Health, and asked him what he thought:
I think that the science behind health has developed in recent years, particularly in relation to mapping the human genome. We will be heading in the direction of personalised medicines. The care that’s given to the patient will be specific to that patient.
If we are careful in the next phase with research at the level of medicines, we should be able to make medicines cheaper. You know that a given drug will only work for a small percentage of people who have a specific DNA shape, for example. At the moment, the drugs work on only 30% of the people who take them, so there’s an unnecessary cost in there caused by trial-and-error that a more targeted approach could reduce.
There are other savings that could be made through ICT: the doctor at his desk, for example, could maybe have access to cloud computing that enables good decisions to be taken in a more efficient manner. That’s a little utopian right now, but it’s the sort of thing we could see to drive down costs and make healthcare more affordable. That’s something I think the European Union can give leadership on; the up-scaling of ICT in the healthcare sector.
It sounds like science fiction, but could technology provide the “magic bullet” that helps save the European social model? We asked Professor Finn Borlum Kristensen, a health technology expert, what the future might hold:
There have been a lot of expectations placed on ICT in healthcare, and they have been somewhat frustrated; but there are doubtless efficiency gains to be made. For example, through sharing lab results, imaging results, electronic patient records, etc. There are always privacy concerns, but politicians must acknowledge that, at a very, very high level, you can exchange information on individuals as part of healthcare without that information being misused with negative consequences.
Then there are issues around using ICT for monitoring people at home remotely. Perhaps we could see patients being sent home from hospital earlier with a monitoring device, saving money on hospital care. We could see ICT employed in different devices to replace the need for constant monitoring by caregivers.
What do YOU think? Could a “revolution” in healthcare technology save the European social model? Or does it raise just as many issues as it solves? Issues of privacy and safety of personal information? Let us know your thoughts in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reaction.
David Byrne is patron of Health First Europe and former EU Commissioner for Health & Consumer Protection.
Professor Finn Borlum Kristensen is Chairman of the Executive Committee of the European Network for Health Technology Assessment.