By Dr. Stefanie Beck, Government Affairs Manager Lilly Germany.
A wave of innovation is underway in healthcare, bringing fresh optimism to patients by targeting unmet health needs and making care more personalized and patient-centered. But innovation is of no use if it does not reach patients. This is too often the case, despite the great potential benefits to patient care and outcomes.
Unfortunately, political conditions are often a roadblock. In Germany, efforts are underway to make innovative solutions more accessible. Minister of Health Jens Spahn is currently championing legislation that would include digital health apps in sick funds’ standard services package.
Knowing the potential that digital solutions have to improve patient outcomes, and the need for better collaboration between industry and policymakers, this month Lilly Germany launched the Innovation-Lounge. The forum brings together healthcare start-ups, ‘traditional’ biopharma, and policy stakeholders with the goal to work together and find common ground so that innovative solutions can reach patients.
Kicking off Innovation-Lounge
The first Innovation-Lounge in Berlin on July 9th focused on diabetes care, under the auspices of Lilly’s Diabetes@Work program. Sebastian Sujka, founder and CEO of xBird, kicked of proceedings by painting a clear picture of how much technology can enhance the well-being of patients: his company’s technology utilizes artificial intelligence and advanced data-processing to make it far easier for diabetes patients to monitor their blood-sugar levels and improves tailored therapy.
The other keynote speaker, Lina Behrens from Flying Health, the incubator for digital health startups in Germany, emphasized the high degree of creativity and ingenuity in the digital health market but stressed that political conditions make it difficult for new technologies to emerge and successfully establish themselves in the market. Reimbursement remains a major barrier. Although Spahn’s current efforts will require sick funds to pay for some digital health apps, not all will be covered – including many that could greatly enhance the well-being of patients.
What we learned
Innovation and access to digital health applications need greater political salience. Novel technologies can drastically improve treatment options, but political momentum has been limited. The regulatory status-quo makes it difficult for new technologies to reach the market. In particular, reimbursement mechanisms for digital health apps must be implemented: digital products perform medical functions, such as supporting patient self-management, and should be reimbursed like medical devices. Mr. Spahn’s new legislative proposal is undeniably a step in the right direction. However, the scope of health apps covered by the new regulation must be widened.
At the same time, policy makers and the industry should address challenges posed by artificial intelligence and big data. Digital health apps frequently require the collection and recording of personal data. Combined with artificial intelligence, this can provide immense benefits, from automated diagnostic procedures to individually personalized healthcare management. But privacy, oversight, accountability and public trust concerns must be considered– otherwise much innovation will remain a non-starter.
These challenges should be addressed urgently. If not, patients cannot access new technologies that can enhance their lives, and future innovation may be stifled. It is our hope that through our Innovation-Lounge, we will foster fruitful exchanges between political stakeholders, entrepreneurs and business leaders that will help keep great new innovations on track.
Diabetes@Work is a Lilly Germany initiative that supports people living and working with diabetes. It contributes to scientific and political debates around diabetes in Germany by fostering cooperation between industry, experts in the field of occupational health care, diabetologists and prominent diabetes associations. Specifically, it seeks to highlight to key political decision-makers the need for more practical solutions in diabetes care and for the implementation of a National Diabetes Strategy.
Innovation-Lounge, a new Lilly Germany forum, brings together healthcare policy stakeholders, the biopharmaceutical industry, and entrepreneurs in the healthcare market to discuss and promote innovation in our sector, with the explicit aim to make it easier for innovations to get to market and be accessed by patients.