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Innovation Still Lags in Polish Healthcare, Despite Progress

HEALTH & MEDICINEInnovation Still Lags in Polish Healthcare, Despite Progress

There is no shortage of innovators in the Polish healthcare system who introduce solutions or procedures that put them on the international stage, serving as examples to follow. However, it is challenging to describe the entire system as innovative, a fact confirmed by global rankings. And this is not just about advanced technologies, but also about drugs and treatment methods, scientific research, and organizational innovations. In many cases, the implementation of modern solutions is hampered by a lack of funding. Concerns about the consequences of potential mistakes also contribute to this. 

 “In hospitals, the opportunities to finance modern procedures are very limited by the guaranteed benefits basket. It is difficult to achieve universal modernity in hospitals because we have not adjusted the benefits basket. In other words, we cannot specifically pay for these modern techniques, we cannot separate them. However, on a point-by-point basis, from the perspective of a single hospital as an innovator of technological and organizational solutions, we can say that we really have global leaders. An example is the Hearing Centre in Kajetany, which put the Polish system beyond our country,” said Assoc. Prof. Barbara Więckowska, Professor at SGH and Head of the Department of Innovation in Health Care at this university.

Innovation and the implementation of new technologies remains a challenge in the Polish healthcare system. In the latest “World Index of Healthcare Innovation 2023” report, compiled by the equal opportunities organization Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity, Poland was ranked last, 32nd (down from 31st in 2021 and 30th in 2020), due to a lack of patient-centered care, poor infrastructure, and minimal scientific impact. The authors of the ranking noted, among other things, that our country has one of the lowest cancer survival rates of all the countries analyzed, as well as one of the lowest numbers of primary healthcare doctors and nurses. In addition, it ranks last in terms of health digitalization and the development of medical and scientific innovations in the field of medicine. However, it ranks slightly better in medical progress (24th in the ranking) thanks to a decent number of approvals of innovative drugs, which is influenced, among other things, by belonging to the European Medicines Agency.

– “Innovation is not just new technologies, innovation is also a new organization of services, and this is already within the reach of our hospitals, in which processes can be adapted so that the patient is supplied efficiently, safely and as quickly as possible,” says Prof. Więckowska.

In the last three years, the COVID-19 pandemic has proven to be a catalyst for changes in digitalization. According to the latest edition of the “Future Health Index” report, published by Philips, healthcare leaders and medical staff agree that innovations and modern technologies will help meet the growing needs of patients, improve the quality of the healthcare system and increase its cost-effectiveness. Currently, investments in digital medical records and telemedicine dominate the market, reflecting the current needs of the healthcare sector, but also aiming to prepare it for the future introduction of even more advanced technologies, such as automation or artificial intelligence.

-“Hospitals often obtain funding and resources for investments from various European competitions, which allows them to test solutions that are already being used abroad. And point by point, we have leaders in the system, from whom other entities could learn. However, without full funding of these services, it is hard to think about innovation in the healthcare sector, because once the project is over, the competition is over, and the question remains as to how to continue financing this service,” which is often more expensive than a traditional service, says the SGH expert.

As she points out, the starting point for making Polish hospitals more modern should be education and demonstrating benefits – making facilities and their patients aware that using new technologies and innovative solutions or therapies is simply profitable for them.

– “A major constraint to innovation development is thinking that new procedures, new techniques are not necessarily well researched, that our patients will not understand what they are getting, and in case of mistakes, the hospital will bear their costs,” explains Prof. Więckowska. “In the healthcare sector, we can’t revolutionize, changes must take place gradually, calmly. Firstly, the most educated patients should be subjected to new procedures or forms of benefits to explain all the nuances, so that the patient can understand them. Doing something in an innovative way is one thing, but explaining in a simple and clear way what are the risks and consequences of this action is art.”

Funding in the Polish healthcare system has been a problem for years, not only in the context of innovation. According to the latest OECD “Health at a Glance 2023” report, Poland spends an average of 2.97 thousand dollars annually per inhabitant on health, much less than the OECD average of nearly 5 thousand dollars. Health expenditure accounts for 6.7% of GDP in Poland, while the average is 9.2%. The report also shows that Poland lags behind the average of the 38 OECD member countries in almost half of the indicators.

– The main expectations towards the new Minister of Health are above all dialogue and an attempt to work out a common position with all parties, i.e. patients, service providers, the payer and AOTMiT, because if we do not sit down together, do not work out together what we want to offer within this system, there will be no understanding of the directions of changes, there will be unnecessary nerves. Any change, even well-designed, must be discussed first. From my experience, inventing a new pattern of financing or organization of a given procedure is about 20-25% of the time. The rest is persuasion, fine tuning, discussion,” says the head of the Department of Innovation in Healthcare at SGH. “- We must be open to the fact that our initial proposal will be changed, we must adapt it to the expectations of stakeholders involved in the process and then, importantly, monitor the effects.”

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