The pandemic that has been raging for more than a year is dramatic proof of the weaknesses in health systems, even in the most developed countries. In Spain, whose situation during the first wave was particularly dramatic, recognized experts had warned even before coronavirus that the National Health System was overwhelmed, especially in the area of primary care and public health.
The crisis has exacerbated the problems and others have emerged that remain dormant, not only in aspects related to health care. We are talking, for example, about historical deficits in investment in R&D+i in Health Sciences and key aspects in governance of the system itself.
We are in a multifactorial crisis, marked by:
- The high number of health activities not done during the pandemic, translated into tens of thousands of undiagnosed or untreated procedures, with the result being certain risk of deterioration in patients’ level of health.
- The demographic evolution, which produces gradual growth in the number of elderly people, of chronically ill patients, of people with their ability to live daily life limited, or which translates into greater need for health services and specific care.
- The impact of the necessary energy transition, in an industry that needs significant energy consumption to work properly.
- The need to make the health system sustainable in a very demanding macroeconomic scenario.
All of this should lead us to an overall reflection on health policies and innovation, so that the end result can be to have cutting-edge health care that lets citizens have the best possible health conditions and quality of life and which promotes healthy living habits.
This obvious need for better health services comes at a particularly complex time, marked by the technological revolution. Social uses, corporate cultures, citizens’ expectations, power balances are already changing. It is also a time of opportunities, because this technological revolution opens the door to more and better health care services for citizens.
There is a clear trigger for these new times, where digitalization changes health management. This is the ability to manage huge amounts of data on how patients become ill, the variables of their illness, the effectiveness of each diagnosis or therapeutic action, etc. In short, an immense flow of information that must be integrated and processed in order to return it to society in the form of knowledge. The goal must be to improve the effectiveness of health measures and preventive actions by promoting new health proposals and research and innovation, always at the service of people and, of course, respecting their basic rights.
The opportunity is huge, but it cannot be ignored that, in everything that is related to the digital transition, Europe is lagging behind the United States. The EU must also push for a digital transition in health services, a transition in accordance with its founding values. And each of its member countries, such as Spain, has to roll out a country strategy.
The opportunity is now. We don’t know when the next global public health crisis will come. But when it does, it would be unforgivable to, once again, not be prepared.