IDEA LAB

PASSION, VISION AND ACTION: AN INTERVIEW WITH THE ESG’S MARY HARNEY

After publishing a White Paper addressing the different challenges facing European healthcare systems and creating a soon-to-be-launched Early Intervention toolkit aimed at raising awareness of the importance of early intervention in chronic diseases, you might think the European Steering Group (ESG) would take a break. You’d be wrong.

IDEA LAB

PASSION, VISION AND ACTION: AN INTERVIEW WITH THE ESG’S MARY HARNEY

After publishing a White Paper addressing the different challenges facing European healthcare systems and creating a soon-to-be-launched Early Intervention toolkit aimed at raising awareness of the importance of early intervention in chronic diseases, you might think the European Steering Group (ESG) would take a break. You’d be wrong.

We spoke with Mary Harney, former Health Minister of Ireland and Chair of the ESG, who described the ESG’s future goals and ambitions.

Idea Lab: What’s next for the ESG?
Mary Harney: Integrated care. The next big topic we want to address is how care is best organised around the patient. A paradigm shift is needed. A reorganization of delivery towards patient-centric integrated care systems would ensure that care is provided in an optimal setting – either in hospital, in the community or at home. We’ll be studying the pilot programmes to see what the enablers were, what made them a success. We may focus on technology that links primary care with secondary care, because there are many promising technology projects in that field. It’s a work in progress at the moment.

IL: Are there any specific pilots you’ll be focusing on?
MH: We’ve not decided yet. There are a number of interesting pilots in various countries. Some focus on changing the way healthcare professionals work, for example, putting in place better screening processes to improve patient access to care. Some use technology, even rather well-known technology such as Skype, to link healthcare professionals.

We want to show how different models of integrated care can deliver enormous success, from a financial point of view and, more importantly, in terms of better outcomes and better healthcare access for patients.

If we are to succeed in transforming our healthcare systems and making them financially sustainable, we have to involve more than the health minister. We need a cross-ministerial engagement and cross-ministerial projects.

IL: What has the ESG experience been like?
MH: Well, the ESG started in 2013 as a roundtable bringing together healthcare experts: policymakers, academics, patient groups, etc. There’s an enormous amount of work out there on healthcare policy that’s aspirational, “If only we could do this or that, healthcare systems would be fantastic”. That’s not our approach. Ours is based on successful pilot programmes—thirty in all—in different settings, different countries. We believe that changing the way things are done, and collaborating with different stakeholders, can deliver faster results, lower systems costs, achieve better outcomes and deliver quicker access to patients who become more engaged.

The ESG combines the experience of healthcare professionals, policymakers and patient advocates and following the publication of the White Paper we have been very pleased to welcome new talent on board. Participation is enthusiastic and vigorous and there is a strong focus on the patient point of view. More knowledgeable and engaged patients are essential to improving healthcare provision.

For the last year, we’ve been working on the Early Intervention toolkit, which is based on a pilot programme out of Spain, led by Dr. Juan Jover. The EI clinics are for people suffering from musculoskeletal conditions and the results of early intervention for these clinics has been very impressive. Permanent disability has dropped by 50%, temporary disability by almost 40%. Quite apart from the major improvement in quality of life for patients there are significant economic benefits. The return on investment is 11€ for each euro invested, within eighteen months cost savings are achieved. That’s significant because so many prevention and early intervention programmes take longer to show benefits. So the clinics are a great way to demonstrate to policymakers the importance of early intervention to policymakers. But it’s not just a benefit for health ministers. The Minister of Industry wants a large population of healthy workers. The Welfare minister wants to reduce welfare payments. The Health minister wants to reduce the chances of patients developing more complex and costly conditions. So this is a cross-ministerial project.

And that’s the key: if we are to succeed in transforming our healthcare systems and making them financially sustainable, we have to involve more than the health minister. We need a cross-ministerial engagement and cross-ministerial projects. Health is wealth. Broad ministerial engagement with health policy issues and driving innovation will help to foster a healthier population. And in Europe, where we pride ourselves on high-quality universal healthcare, the only way to continue providing it, given the emerging demographics, is to ensure we have a healthier population now and in the future.

IL: What’s the role of the ESG?
MH: We see ourselves as part of the debate. We don’t have all the answers, we want to advance new ideas—sometimes very simple ideas—to produce greater results.

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