EU showcases digital innovation in healthcare


This article is part of our special report Innovation and the Digital Economy.


Digital technology is contributing to innovation in healthcare more than other sectors in Europe, but the EU remains cautious in its approach to international markets in the sector, delegates to the first European Innovation Convention heard yesterday (December 5).


An exhibition of 50 EU-funded research projects was heavily dominated by health issues, and almost all relied on digital innovation.

Products showcased at the exhibition included virtual platforms designed to help control stress and a device for the physically disabled allowing people using "brain caps" to communicate without moving.

The majority of the health innovation ideas pointed to the European Commission’s priority to deal with Europe's sharply ageing population.

Healthy and active ageing is digital future

A sensor system with software connections enabled a central computer to judge how an elderly person living alone had fallen, whilst two systems allow hospitals to remotely monitor the conditions of people with Parkinson's and other chronic diseases, and enable people to exercise using on-line systems.

There were also systems for helping the elderly exercise without leaving home, adapting current game technology to the needs of the physically impaired.

Not all the digital innovation exhibitors related to healthcare.

'V-City', for example, is a Belgian-originated software creating three-dimensional cityscapes which – viewed through special lenses – enables users such as civil emergency planners and military officers to plan evacuations or attacks on buildings.

The exhibition is a showcase of European technology, but the exhibitors were hand-picked by the Commission, and clearly indicate that research in the burgeoning healthy ageing sector will be a big winner for EU research funding.

The Commission's new framework programme for research, unveiled last week, has €80 billion earmarked for the 2014-2020 budget. 

Europe is arrogant about foreign healthcare capabilities

Europe’s general approach to healthcare partnership in innovation was rebuked during the conference, however.

“The EU is considered insular and inward looking. The US is more prepared to share its research. There are so  many opportunities elsewhere where Europe could be involved in local market innovation, particularly in healthcare,” Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, the founder of one of India’s biggest biotechnology companies,Biocon, told delegates in a plenary session called Building a Global Innovation Economy.

Ann Mettler, the executive director of the Lisbon Council think tank, who was moderating the debate, described as "inherently arrogant" the views of European entrepreneurs who dismissed the idea that they could learn from India about healthcare innovation.


With an ageing population and strong competitive pressures from globalisation, Europe' s future economic growth and jobs will increasingly have to come from innovation in products, services and business models.

Innovation has been placed at the heart of the Europe 2020 strategy for growth and jobs.

The first Innovation Convention is taking place one year after the adoption of the Innovation Union flagship initiative, the EU's roadmap to turn Europe into a more innovation-friendly and competitive continent.


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