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Industrial change in the health sector

Article by Enrico Gibellieri, co-rapporteur of opinion CCMI/153 - Industrial change in the health sector

The European technological medical sector alone employs more than 575 000 people, working in approximately 26 000 companies. The industrial landscape is dominated by SMEs interacting with big companies. The sector is estimated at roughly EUR 100 billion. The positive trade balance of EUR 14.1 billion in 2015 was double that of 2006 and went substantially beyond the American trade surplus of EUR 5 billion. The sector has excellent future prospects. In 2015, there were 12 474 patent applications in the area of medical technology. This number amounts to roughly 17% more than in digital communication and computer communication, and nearly 55% more than in pharmaceuticals and biotechnology.

On the other hand, as health is a major sector (around 10% of EU GDP), the prospects of massive digitalisation open big opportunities for further expansion. Awareness of the impact of digitalisation, including artificial intelligence, is growing fast. The Commission recently adopted a Communication that addresses three priorities in the digital single market strategy for the health and care sector:

  • Secure access by the public to electronic health records and the possibility of cross-border sharing, as well as the use of e-prescriptions
  • Support for data infrastructure for advanced research, disease prevention and personalised health and care in key areas
  • Facilitation of feedback and interaction between patients and healthcare providers, supporting prevention and citizen empowerment, as well as quality and patient-centred care, focusing on chronic diseases and better outcomes of healthcare systems.

A major issue is highly personalised health care that ensures equal and better access and quality. Technology and large sources of anonymous data will greatly facilitate new treatments and operations as well benefit all phases of prevention and recovery. Recovery increasingly takes place outside hospitals, using eHealth technology.

The human factor is paramount. The transition to new health and care requires an open mind and new forms of professionalism in industry at all levels, as well as a redesign of health and care related work. The European social dialogue in health and social services that is in place since 2006 should be reinforced in view of adequate education and training programmes as well as to upgrade the quality of working conditions and work places.