Restrictions on travel and movement necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic have meant healthcare regulation around the use of digital health and assistive technology have had to change to ensure service levels are maintained.

The most obvious of these has been telemedicine – the ability to video chat with a doctor in all but critical health cases – which has required changes to the rules and reimbursement procedures of European countries.

In a bid to capitalise on the learnings that resulted from these changes, European trade association MedTech Europe has released a report with four recommended changes to future digital health regulation aimed at fostering the momentum built in response to the pandemic.


Four recommendations for better digital regulation:

1. Encourage telemedicine

Telemedicine was an established practice for several European countries prior to the pandemic, although typically in private healthcare services.

But the practice was boosted by national regulatory steps to enable digital health technologies, including amending rules requiring face to face interactions between healthcare professionals (HCPs) and patients, and extending or expanding funding and reimbursement procedures for teleconsultations.

MedTech Europe believes the way forward would be for these measures to be kept in place and built upon.

The association’s report said: “A return of Member States to pre-pandemic approaches would be detrimental for patients, HCPs and healthcare systems,”


2. Advance the European Health Data Space

Before the pandemic, digital health deployment, and sharing health data, faced legal, technical, commercial and socio-cultural and skills barriers.

One of the purposes of EU project the European Health Data Space, alongside funding and investment programmes like Horizon Europe and Digital Europe, is to address these barriers and support promising technologies with financial resources.

MedTech Europe suggested that better data-sharing practices in healthcare would enhance the management of the pandemic, the tracking of incidences, and consequently, save more lives.


3. Incentivise digital health with reimbursement practices

According to MedTech Europe, the rise of telehealth services during the pandemic revealed how critical reimbursement provisions were, with doctors able to quickly adapt and start offering them once reimbursement mechanisms were introduced.

Europe’s public healthcare systems are responsible for the bulk of healthcare spend when compared to personal and private sources, but the association believes unlocking these resources for digital health technologies has been slow.

MedTech Europe called on national health authorities and payers to exchange best practices and find the right mechanisms to recognise and incentivise the value of digital health technologies.

If consistently adopted around Europe, the association believes these technologies will not only “enhance crisis-preparedness”, but also the “resilience and sustainability” of European healthcare systems.


4. Develop and deploy AI

The mid and long-term recovery of the European economy will require a more comprehensive approach towards healthcare, which MedTech Europe said must reduce inefficiencies, improve access to healthcare for all, alleviate the burden on the workforce, and empower patients.

The association recommended AI as a technology that can significantly impact all of these issues, but only if barriers are addressed at European & Member State level.

In October 2020, Deloitte and MedTech Europe published a report on the socio-economic impact of AI in healthcare, which offers specific policy recommendations around an enabling governance framework for data, appropriate funding and investment, and digital education.

In light of the recent momentum for digital health practices, the association has reiterated these recommendations.