Switching from hospital care to monitoring and treating patients in their homes will help make public health spending more cost-efficient, according to Edwin Kohl, chairman of healthcare lobby group Costeff.
Edwin Kohl is chairman of Costeff, a healthcare lobby group.
You have created a new association in Brussels to tackle the issue of healthcare efficiency. How did you come to develop this new organisation?
Costeff is a new association for cost efficiency and innovation in healthcare created by a group of leading pharmaceutical companies form the parallel trade, generics, biosimilars, and homecare sectors in particular.
The objective is to unlock innovation in all areas of healthcare to improve processes, such as the distribution of medicines to patients at home, or the compliance with treatments. We need to have a voice in the EU.
Can healthcare costs be reduced without compromising patient care?
We have no choice but to find ways to make health spending more cost efficient. France, for example, will operate its public healthcare system at a 9.4 billion deficit in 2009, while Germany's public system is expected to reach a €7.4 billion deficit in 2010. It's a similar story across Europe.
So, yes, it is definitely possible to reduce healthcare costs without undermining the quality of care. Costeff promotes, for instance, affordable patented medicines through parallel trade, generics or biosimilars. Innovations in the sector of Ambient Assisted Living (AAL) also contribute to reducing costs and improving the delivery of healthcare.
The best medicines are only worth the money if they are taken correctly as prescribed by doctors.
With governments looking for ways to save money, what advice do you have for health ministers? Where can they find real savings?
We have to ensure that elderly people can be treated at home in order to reduce unnecessary hospital stays. We must also use new innovations to ensure that medicines are taken correctly. It's only by unlocking the innovation potential in all areas of healthcare that it can be possible to guarantee the sustainability of healthcare systems in Europe. Of course, any new services and new products we use have to add to patient safety.
What kind of innovations are you describing?
Technologies in the area of telemedicine will help people be treated and monitored in their homes. This means they will need to visit hospitals less frequently and it will also help keep them healthier for longer.
Ensuring that patients take the right medicines at the right times is also crucial to keeping people healthy.
Costeff members have developed, for example, an automated voice system which instructs patients when it's time to take their medication – this is a major help when you consider the number of patients with degenerative blindness and other such conditions.
There are also novel types of automated individualised blister packaging which provide chronically-ill patients with their medicines for a week. This means a patient who should take a combination of drugs for a range of conditions can receive a personalised pack with their medication in it, as prescribed by their doctor.
Are there any legal or regulatory issues holding this back?
Well, in Germany and Spain they had to update their medicines laws because the rules were originally drafted at a time when patients were not commonly on several medicines at once. Medicines were licensed to be sold only in their own packs but these days, people might be routinely on medication for diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol so it's convenient to have them available together in one pack. Some countries do not have to change their legislation to use this system, but others, such as Italy, do.
Is there a trend for people to spend less time being treated in hospitals? What role does technology plan in this?
Hospital stays are now shorter than in the past and homecare is growing. We should embrace AAL to deal with the ageing population and the rising demand for individualised care. Most healthcare will in future be delivered outside the traditional hospital setting. This can include eHealth technologies which monitor patients at home, remote diagnostics and so on.
This technology will require investment. Is it still cheaper than specialist hospital care?
Staying at home is always cheaper than being in a hospital or nursing home. You could also say it's preferable to most people to be in their own house.
What impact will developments at EU level have on your efforts to cut healthcare costs?
One significant thing will be an increase in sharing of best practice between EU member states. This is a feature of the cross-border healthcare directive. More exchange of this kind of information is also something that the Parliament wants to see in future. That's why we have created Costeff to help raise standards while making healthcare more affordable.
We will encourage the exchange of best practice between the members to raise the awareness on cost-efficiency issues and the need to have the right regulatory framework that allows innovations.