Technical and social innovations have huge potential to make European health and social care systems more efficient, responsive and person-centred. But how do you identify beneficial innovations and how do you bring them into your service? The European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing (EIP-AHA) brings industry, researchers, public services and user groups together to find some answers to these questions.

In six Action Groups representatives from different sectors have been working on bringing best practices, new developments and the necessary conditions for change together to drive innovation in various aspects of active and healthy ageing. The European Social Network (ESN) contributes actively to the Action Group on Integrated Care, where we seek to represent the perspective and experience of social care services.

A new vision for Europe

At the EIP-AHA Summit in Brussels on 6-7 December, the European Commission launched its Blueprint on Digital Transformation of Health and Care, a vision that will frame the activities and funding streams in this area for the next three to five years. It seeks to ‘connect the dots’ of the complex developments in digital health and social care on the one hand and active and healthy ageing on the other. €500 million worth of public and private investment between 2016-2018 will enable implementation of the vision and bring the benefits of digital innovation in active and healthy ageing to an additional 4 million EU citizens.

The identification, stimulation and aggregation of investment tools and commitments to the Blueprint’s goals will be a priority for the EIP AHA in 2017 and beyond. The Blueprint outlines a timeline with a number of planned actions for the next three years. Yet, as Paul Timmens, Director at the European Commission’s DG CONNECT, reminded the audience at the Summit: “sensible public policy in this field is challenging because you have to hang in there long enough”. Delivering innovative solutions in an affordable, equitable and fair way is nearly impossible, he said. All the more important to bring the EU’s programmes and funding streams in this area under one umbrella as the Blueprint tries.

The robots are coming

Almost 2,000 delegates at the Summit got to hear about new technological innovations including robotics, digital monitoring technologies and fall detection and prevention systems. Pilots confirm that services users largely welcome and embrace these new technological solutions when they see a clear benefit to their lives. Concerns about instalment and maintenance and cost-benefits analyses should however be addressed.

The disability sector has led the way in bringing user-friendly products to the market, Sarah Rochira, Older People’s Commissioner for Wales pointed out in a panel discussion with representatives of the industry. Martin Seychell, Deputy Director at DG SANTE of the European Commission emphasised that service users’ and care professionals’ knowledge and experiences need to be considered when innovative solutions are explored – otherwise they are likely not to be implemented in practice. 

European regions are leading the way

ESN welcomes the focus on regional reference sites of the EIP-AHA, 74 of which were awarded by Günther Oettinger, European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, at the Summit. Among them are several ESN members. Congratulations to them for their inspiring work and commitment to innovate their services and make their local areas more age-friendly! Markku Markkula, President of the Committee of the Regions, thanked the regions “for turning our challenges into opportunities”.