Is competition in healthcare the answer to austerity?

On Thursday 27 October, the annual Vlerick Healthcare Conference took place at our Brussels campus, where the most notable contemporary and future problems of the healthcare sector were discussed. During the day, guests were divided into three groups, with each group following a specific track of lectures aligned with their pre-submitted topics. During these lectures, healthcare experts shared their insights on what they deem to be the key factors and opportunities to engage with in order for the sector to progress. Statements related to the summit’s earlier topics served as the cornerstones of the debate.

Professor Brecht Cardoen was satisfied with the conference’s renewed format: “We’ve deliberately kept the plenary part − with a broad view on competition in healthcare − as short as possible. To better respond to the specific needs of our different target groups, we let the participants choose between 3 tracks beforehand: Competing for Access, Competing for Capital, and Competing for Patients. So, people could stay in their niche the whole time, if they so desired. At the same time, the tracks were also made broad enough to appeal to everyone. In practice, we in fact saw that the participants − namely, healthcare providers, policy makers, start-ups and entrepreneurs, both pharma and med-tech − also registered for tracks that were not specifically addressed to them. Competing for Patients was primarily intended for hospitals, but many pharmaceutical companies were also interested, because the patient is their end-customer as well. So, we were able to create more depth; plus, we had many more speakers than in previous years too. Last but not least, the new format also created more interaction between the speakers and the audience.”

The end debate − moderated by VRT journalist Kathleen Cools − included Professor Johan Kips (CEO Erasmus Hospital Brussels), Dirk Reyn (CEO eTheRNA), Elizabeth Kuiper (Director European Affairs at EFPIA) and Professor Walter Van Dyck (Vlerick Business School). One of the many topics discussed was whether the pharma industry acts as a devil in disguise. According to the panel, the industry should strive to put greater emphasis on transparency, as pharmaceutical companies invest huge amounts of profit back into the industry through Research & Development. Transparency would serve as proof to the general public that money actually goes back into R&D. There’s also the cost of failure, which the general public doesn’t see: for every drug that works, there are hundreds that fail. So, developing a drug is quite expensive.

Transparency will also be key on the healthcare provider side, especially in the field of quality which appears to become ever important and necessary to assess changes to the healthcare system. Both in primary and secondary care the tendency to getting organised into networks is creating new challenging questions on the level of resilience and performance measurement, including budgetary evolution. The change towards networks and quality is also changing the way in which competition takes place, as competitors of yesterday will become the collaborators of tomorrow. From the industry side, competition has always been seen as something positive − but, in terms of affordability for society, some panel members believe they’re now hitting a wall. The pharmaceutical industry must be prepared for the future, and that certainly must include ethical behaviour.

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