EXCLUSIVE / National healthcare systems should embrace the digital era and use Health Technology Assessment (HTA) to become truly sustainable and cost-effective, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Vytenis Andriukaitis told euractiv.com in an interview.
The European Commission will launch a public consultation today (21 October) on the Health Technology Assessment (HTA).
The HTA is a multidisciplinary process to assess the added value and effectiveness of a given health technology – for example medicine, medical devices, diagnostic tools or surgical procedures, over and above existing ones.
The Commission hopes that it will be used by member states as a tool to ensure cost-effective, accessible and sustainable health systems.
According to the executive, healthcare systems across the EU are faced with a number of challenges, making it all the more urgent to enter the “digital era”.
An aging population and a parallel rise in chronic diseases, combined with a rapid increase in innovative medicines, medical devices and cutting-edge diagnostic tools have put extreme pressure on healthcare systems.
Many of these products and therapies are extremely costly, and there is often a high price variation among member states while healthcare expenditure already accounts for about 10% of the EU gross domestic product (GDP).
“Even if this figure remains stable, national authorities need to ensure that their health systems are sustainable,” Andriukaitis said, emphasising that member states need to be sure that all healthcare-related tools, be they diagnostic or treatment methods, medical equipment, pharmaceuticals, rehabilitation and prevention methods or even organisational and support systems, are worth the investment.
Maximising the potential of innovation
Referring to Europe’s aging population, Andriukaitis noted that there was a need to maximise the potential of innovative solutions based on digital technologies.
“A key tool to support member states make smarter, more cost-effective investments, is EU cooperation on Health Technology Assessment (HTA), and I hope to make great strides in the coming years,” the Commissioner said.
As health systems come under rising pressure to do more with less, member states cannot afford to invest in new and expensive technologies with limited or no added value, he said.
“Whilst no comprehensive analysis of the impact of HTA on resources has yet been concluded, a recent study for the UK which focused on 10 health technology assessments concluded that savings of approximately €3.35 billion could be achieved in that country alone if the recommendations from HTA reports were followed,” Andriukaitis said, adding that there are similar studies conducted in other member states that also demonstrate the potential of HTA.
In addition to helping alleviate the financial burden on member states, the Commission believes that HTA can also benefit patients, by contributing to their timely access to innovative health technologies and treatments.
Industry will be encouraged to focus its research on technologies with significant added value for patients, the executive believes.
“I am convinced that pan-EU cooperation on HTA will bring real added value to all countries, through the pooling of resources, exchange of expertise, and the avoidance of duplication in the assessments of the same product or intervention in different member states,” Andriukaitis stressed, adding that multiple assessments are costly and time-consuming.
“They represent a duplication of work and waste of scarce expert resources for member states. And delays for patient access to innovative treatments.”
The EU executive recently published an inception impact assessment mapping out five possible policy options, including maintaining the status quo which means that member states would continue to work together in Joint Actions financed by the Commission’s Health Programme until 2020.
The other four options include
- long-term voluntary cooperation financed by the EU beyond 2020,
- cooperation on collection, sharing and use of common tools and data,
- cooperation on production of Rapid Relative Effectiveness Assessment (REA) reports, and finally,
- cooperation on the production and uptake of full HTA reports.
The third and fourth options would entail the setting up of a legal framework for EU cooperation on HTA enabling efforts by national bodies to be compatible, shareable, and useable through the creation of common IT platforms and other tools.
The fifth and final option would include elements from options three and four, but as the end product would be full HTA reports, assessing more context-specific elements (i.e. organisational and economic), this option would require greater convergence.
“At this stage, as you will have noticed, this is a work in progress since we are gathering further information and views of various stakeholders,” the Commissioner said. “To this end we have launched three studies in addition to the public consultation,” he pointed out, adding that irrespective of the option ultimately retained it will be essential to respect national competences to set prices and reimbursement levels.
Concerning the purpose of the public consultation, the Juncker Commission wants to make sure that it chooses the best possible option for pan-European cooperation on HTA.
“Indeed, this is in line with the Commission’s Better Regulation policy whereby we aim to ensure that our proposals meet policy goals at minimum cost and deliver maximum benefits to citizens, businesses (including SMEs) and workers while avoiding all unnecessary regulatory burdens,” the Commissioner concluded.