Prevention measures in health systems more urgent than ever, say experts

We need to move people to the centre of healthcare and focus on prevention, say panellists at the EIT Health Summit Tuesday (24 May) [SHUTTERSTOCK]

Rapid changes have happened in the field of health since the COVID-19 pandemic, and the need to focus on prevention has become even more apparent, according to health stakeholders.

The current focus of the healthcare sector is learning lessons from two and a half years of the COVID-19 pandemic in order to better prepare the EU and its health systems for the future.

Yet, experts suggest that we may have to change our whole approach to health and healthcare to set ourselves up for future challenges properly.

“We saw earlier the pandemic failures to adequately take into account social and community factors, particularly behavioural factors, which meant that we weren’t as good at predicting models as we might have been,” said Claudia Pagliari, director of Global eHealth at the University of Edinburgh at the EIT Health Summit this week.

For example, contact tracing apps were unpopular with citizens because of privacy concerns. If everyone had trusted the apps and downloaded them, they could have effectively reduced infection rates, but failing to consider people’s fears severely limited their effectiveness.

That is one example of how putting people at the centre of health and including social factors could be a benefit, Pagliari argued.

Placing people at the centre of health also means shifting our health systems to focus on prevention and thereby considering health an investment rather than cost, said Bogi Eliasen, director of health at the Copenhagen Institute For Futures Studies.

For him, focusing on prevention is essential to withstand the burdens on healthcare systems.

“The key point is to focus on healthspan and not on lifespan. So maybe we should reconfigure where the intervention with the person creates the most impact. That’s not necessarily very late in the disease trajectory, as we see today,” explained Eliasen.

Health systems have long been overburdened by the increasing average age of citizens and the higher disease burdens- something that was further exacerbated by the pandemic.

Andriukaitis: National health systems need 'fundamental reform'

EU countries could save money and lives by increasing investment in disease prevention and health promotion, the European Commission said on Thursday (23 November), stressing that good health policy requires political will across all sectors.

The way forward in a preventative, human-centred approach

Talking about preventive health care is not new as former EU Commissioner for Health Vytenis Andriukaitis, urged EU member states in 2017 to start focussing on prevention.

Despite this, we still are not there, and creating the path to more preventative health will require new ways of thinking and different ways of working with people.

The project Health Outcomes Observatory aims to develop national-level observatories and collect patient-reported outcomes directly from the patient.

Valentina Strammiello, head of programmes at the European Patients’ Forum, a part of the project, praises it for giving patients the option to monitor their conditions and improve their quality of life. This can help them avoid developing further complications because of their conditions.

“The patient will have this app on their mobile phone and will be able to share their quality of life data. The goal is twofold. Firstly, they will be able to monitor their own condition,” Strammiello said.

“Secondly, they can compare their data to the anonymised data of others living with the same conditions, mainly from other countries. So they can see whether the treatment they are on is as effective as the others provided to other patients,” she concluded.

[Edited by Gerardo Fortuna/Alice Taylor]

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