COCIR is the European Coordination Committee of the Radiological, Electromedical and Healthcare IT Industry. It is a non-profit trade association, founded in 1959, who represents the medical technology industry in Europe. The European healthcare systems have been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and, more recently, by geopolitical turmoil and raising energy prices. To contribute as futurists, CIFS Health has taken part in the first COCIR Strategy Workshop, held at COCIR HQ in Brussels, in September this year, in order to identify the industrial strategy towards current and future challenges. Cifs.Health Editor talked to Dr Bernt Bieber, COCIR President.
In the section ‘COCIR President‘, your LinkedIn profile states that COCIR is unique as it brings together the healthcare, IT and telecommunications industries. Please elaborate on COCIR experience in bringing together this broad range of healthcare stakeholders.
COCIR has long been leveraging the richness in diversity in our membership. Members from different sectors enjoy the networking and knowledge sharing opportunities we provide, and actively contribute to our activities. An example of this is our recent library of Al use cases, which has been compiled by companies in the imaging, health ICT and radiotherapy sectors
What lessons may be drawn based on the experience with the COCIR Innovative Health Initiative up to now?
The first IHI brokerage event held this June was a success and attracted approximately 1450 participants and generated over 800 unique matchmaking contacts. 600 meetings took place on the day of the event. Attendees (including COCIR members) gave very positive feedback on the event and appreciated the face-to-face element.
The application deadline for the first 2 calls closed on 20 September. IHI received 33 proposals in response to calls l & 2. The next steps are the eligibility check, eligible proposals will then be evaluated by independent experts. As both large companies and SMEs are eligible to receive IHI funding, we are now looking forward to welcoming new industry members into our community of like-minded organisations, and supporting them in participating in future calls.
How do you see the future of dialogue between the industry, regulators. the medical professions. and patients’ organisations? How are innovations likely to affect interactions between major healthcare stakeholders in the future?
Healthcare stakeholders are already working together to make sustainable changes to healthcare systems. Examples of this are the EU Health Coalition, the European Alliance for Value in Health and the European Alliance for Cardiovascular Health.
COCIR effectively contributes to these fora, not only by bringing a united industry voice, but also with know-how on innovation trends.
Dr Bieber, in your view, what strategic aims shall this dialogue pursue?
Our goal is to continue bringing innovation that adds real value to the lives of citizens in the European Union. COCIR digital health strategy will be the major driver of making personalised and integrated care a reality in Europe.
We strongly advocate for patients to have access to the latest technologies, and for physicians and nurses to be involved in integrating digital health solutions in their workflows. Our dialogue with these stakeholders will be key in fulfilling these goals.
At the start of September 2022, you held the First Strategy Workshop. Could you share the context and the findings?
COCIR published its recommendations for the EU institutions in the first quarter of 2019. Since then, European healthcare systems have been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and, more recently, by geopolitical turmoil and raising energy prices. COCIR itself went through several organisational and membership changes. The industry landscape is evolving, due also to recent and upcoming mergers. spin offs and acquisitions.
With all this in mind, the COCIR Board decided to review our prioritisation of our activities and on re-energising our strategy. The findings are still confidential and a follow up strategy workshop will be held shortly.
COCIR activities continue with unwavering focus and we will, as always, be sharing our views with our stakeholders via our channels.
COCIR has a wide range of activities in digital health. As someone with 30+ years· experience in the medical engineering industry, what is your outlook on the future of digital health in Europe in the near future, and perhaps long-term?
It is obvious that digital technologies in healthcare already play a very important role and the relative importance will only continue to grow. Luckily, we have already achieved a level of maturity in technologies such as artificial intelligence, rapidly evolving solutions for truly global data interoperability and sophisticated cybersecurity tools to fully unlock new horizons of healthcare improvements and patient empowerment, while ensuring privacy of personal data and all possible support to healthcare professionals.
Covid-19 vaccine development and market readiness to provide multiple digital solutions, such as mhealth and EHR management systems, serve as some of many excellent examples of how digital technologies can assist in overcoming huge shocks and offer solutions for long term challenges to ensure clinical excellence and access to healthcare services for patients.
Digital technologies will also drive necessary systemic changes and provide tools for national healthcare delivery systems to address long standing challenges associated with the ageing European population.
What makes me confident in the future of healthcare is the presence of industry knowledge and the availability of technical solutions. In combination with the capabilities and willingness of a wide range of stakeholders to join forces and cooperate on digital technologies deployment in healthcare, we have everything required to support necessary changes in healthcare in a sustainable way. Current rapid developments in EU legislation reflect the shared need for all stakeholders to develop robust comprehensive frameworks for the trustworthy, ethical, transparent and efficient diffusion of ready to use technologies, the development of new solutions in the most critical and complicated areas in healthcare where existing practices in the of organisation of resources and processes are no longer capable of serving the current health needs of European citizens.
COCIR is active in the area of green healthcare. It would be interesting to hear what the health industry considers desirable, and possible, in this area in the future.
COCIR companies have always had a strong focus on the sustainability of their products and solutions. At the beginning of the century, the circular economy was already a business reality (refurbishment of medical devices) when EU institutions were discussing the “recycling economy”.
In 2008, COCIR members developed one of the first online-based systems for tracking the use of hazardous chemicals in the supply chain. Today this system is the most advanced tool in the electric and electronic industry (among others). Since 2010, COCIR companies have launched an initiative to improve the ecodesign of their devices, with the main focus on the reduction of energy consumption. The list could go on and on.
Nonetheless. we have to remember that medical devices’ main focus is to save lives or to improve the quality of life. We are strongly committed to research and to bringing new medical technologies to the market for the benefit of patients. Sometimes such technologies may have higher environmental impacts. We do not see this as a tradeoff as patients are our focus. We do our best to mitigate impacts and improve sustainability. What challenges are there on the way to this vision? How can they be overcome, in your opinion?
In the past 15 years the healthcare sector in the EU and worldwide haspromoted sustainability, mostly through environmentally preferable purchasing policies. Such initiatives are fragmented in the EU (and worldwide as well) to the point that individual hospitals may have different requirements. This creates a huge burden for manufacturers, not to mention that requirements are sometimes even conflicting, affecting design choices.
We believe this fragmentation to be very problematic. A more harmonized approach, with criteria focusing on the relevant aspects, would contribute massively to improving the sustainability of medical devices. There is a need for all actors in healthcare settings, from hospitals to professional societies and manufacturers, to come together and work on a single framework to improve the sustainability of healthcare.
How would you assess the financial resilience of the German healthcare system currently, and what challenges are to be expected in the future?
In general, the financial resilience is strong due to the fundamental elements of the German healthcare system, i.e. the statutory health insurance system. However, economic developments will decide whether revenue for the healthcare system increases or decreases. At the same time, costs are likely to increase for healthcare providers (energy, staffing etc.) This may require political action to balance revenue and expenditure, for which there are several options.
In conclusion, Dr Bieber, what possible scenarios do you see for the European health industry in the next 10-15 years?
I would like to strongly link my answer to the COCIR vision, which is: “A Better World with Improved Access to Affordable, Safe and Quality Healthcare”.
The medical technology industry is facing a bright future, thanks to our investment in research and innovation, which is constantly delivering cutting-edge solutions to the ever increasing challenges faced by the healthcare systems.
Our members are not afraid of global competition. We are looking forward to supporting the policy makers’ efforts in opening up markets to trade and investment, and in fostering a fair and balanced environment that truly values innovation benefitting patients and systems.