MedTech research must be central to Europe’s post-crisis vision

The COVID-19 pandemic sparked a crisis in our health systems from which we must learn. Research and innovation on post-acute and long-term care are essential.

While it seems certain that technology will have a key role to play in the post-crisis period, we need a new way to think about where we should invest research funding in order to get the most value.

During the acute phase of the crisis, with hospitals reaching capacity and vulnerable patients at risk of infection, care providers turned to telemedicine and homecare solutions. However, the system was ill-prepared for this sudden shift. Some services did not have access to adequate technologies; others struggled to make evidence-based decisions on which technologies to deploy.

Now, I believe we need to think much more about the role of technology in the post-acute phases of this crisis. The post-COVID patient population has new rehabilitation needs which much be addressed, while rehabilitation services for non-COVID patients must also be reimagined in this changed environment. In both cases, I see a role for technologies – provided that we select the right ones.

Continuum of care

 

The COVID crisis shone a light on the continuum of care. From prevention and diagnosis, to the acute phase, as well as rehabilitation, homecare and long-term care, COVID-19 impacted services from start to finish.

This legacy is still with us and requires a response. My own focus is on rehabilitation – an area still affected as personnel and facilities continue to cope with the pandemic. The needs of frail elderly people or those in need of post-stroke rehab have only grown as services were curtailed. Added to this, we now have new needs arising from COVID-related post-intensive care syndrome affected people who spent weeks in ICU.

If there is a small beneficial impact of the pandemic it has been the stark realisation that we cannot think in silos any longer. We have to think of care as a continuum. This implies a need for greater collaboration between those working across the healthcare spectrum.

In addition, we need a more active dialogue between healthcare actors, including industry experts. They are the ones who understand the bottlenecks that arose in delivering personal protective equipment (PPE), ventilators and hospital beds. They are uniquely positioned to identify existing technologies that can help in the post-acute phase, and to highlight gaps which we can hope to fill through collaboration research and investment.

A framework for new thinking

To help us think about what we can learn from the crisis, identify bottlenecks and figure out where to invest in future, I have developed a matrix (see above) showing the Continuum of Care vs Technology. 

This colour-coded system highlights areas of difficulty in relation to the use or availability of technologies, bottlenecks in the production chain, and actions where science can help. I hope it could spark much-needed conversations, perhaps even informing a Strategic Research & Innovation Agenda as well as value-based procurement decisions.

If there is a take-home lesson from the crisis we have endured, it is that we need to work together to determine which technologies we should embrace, and how we can connect these tools with those who need them.

Author

Furio Gramatica, physicist by training, is Director of Development & Innovation at Don Gnocchi Foundation, an Italian chain of healthcare and research centres specialized in post-acute medicine. In this role, he is responsible for the integration and translation of innovative solutions - from research and industry - into clinical practice and for developing alliances with relevant stakeholders in Europe. In the same organisation, he also managed medical technology research team and founded the Laboratory for Nanomedicine and Clinical Biophotonics. Formerly, he spent several years at CERN, Geneva, and in high-technology companies, with R&D and innovation management roles.  

Dr. Gramatica collaborates with companies and institutions in the field of medical technology and, for twenty years, has been collaborating as expert with the European Commission. He has an intense policy making activity, at European level, in healthcare technology products and services innovation and serving. 

His current main research interests are co-operation models among the stakeholders of the health technologies ecosystem (healthcare providers, SMEs, large industry, procurers, regulatory and reimbursement agencies, …) and the development of viable, real-world-data based metrics for an effective use of Value-Based Healthcare.