Health and Digital Transition: How to make the most of Next Generation Funds

health and digital transition

Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, stated in June 2021: “We believe in a human-centred digital transition…. This is about who we want to be, as Europeans. To capture this better, we will formulate a set of digital principles. Such as: Access for all to the Internet; a secure online space; the right to learn digital skills; algorithms that respect people; and the protection of children online.”

Along these lines, on January 26, the Commission presented the proposal for a declaration on digital rights and principles for debate in the European Parliament and the Council, with the goal of achieving its final approval in the first half of 2022.

The rights and freedoms that make up the European Union will be strengthened by this declaration, establishing the rules with which the digital transition will be developed in order to make economic development and innovation compatible with guaranteeing people’s rights in regard to their data and access to digital tools. The aim is to leave no one behind in this transition and for the new services to be developed in an environment of maximum security and respect for the Union’s values and principles.

Confidence and security are mandatory in the provision of digital services. This obligation takes on special consideration regarding access to health services via digital tools, since this is particularly sensitive data that enjoys maximum legal protection.

The arrival of NextGenerationEU (NGEU) funds in Spain opens up a space for development of services based on digital tools in the National Health System (SNS in Spanish) and, by extension, in health services in the autonomous regions. The expectations presented by this funding might be reduced by the decentralised configuration of the SNS, with analytical efforts and development of seventeen different projects running in parallel. 

This is why the Government of Spain must take the lead in the digital transition of the health sector. Efficient use of European funds as well as creation of value through application of digital tools on the knowledge created in the health area, both public and private, depend on this. Planning and leading the destination of NGEU funds does not imply a loss of competences for the governments in Spain’s autonomous regions. On the contrary, proper planning and distribution of priorities among the regional health services will allow for greater efficiency and to develop more projects for the country, which will benefit the population and the economy. 

As this poses a difficulty in making the best use of the funds, what I have mentioned as an obligation should not be pushed to the background: confidence, linked with access to digital skills. The relationship between healthcare staff and the patient through digital services requires prior work to build confidence and for people to acquire these skills. Leaving development of projects in the hands of technical departments would neglect this side of the digital transition. It will not be possible to reach the highest objectives without proper planning, without including a specific strategy in project development to build confidence among professionals, managers, patients, and other healthcare sector actors, and without everyone being able to safely and efficiently handle digital tools.

Spain has much at stake this decade, from international prestige, sustainability of the health system, and wealth creation in the health and pharmaceutical industries to the ability to assure citizens that they can trust in their public institutions and services.

Enrique González Fernández

Vice President, Health Area. EADT