Session Summary: Lessons Learned from the Pandemic: Re-designing Health Care Systems

Opening Remarks: 

H. E. Vladimír Lengvarský, Minister of Health of the Slovak Republic

Panel Discussion: 

Francesca Colombo, Head of Health Division, Organisation for Economic Co-operation  and Development

Johanna Hanefeld, Head, Centre for International Health Protection, Robert Koch Institute, Berlin

Martin Smatana, Associate Fellow, Health, Economic Growth and Sustainability Programme, GLOBSEC, Bratislava  

Gabriele Grom, Public Policy Lead, Mid-Europe Region, Merck Sharp & Dohme, Vienna  

Led by: Sarah Wheaton, Chief Policy Correspondent, POLITICO Europe, Brussels


The session kicked off with opening remarks from Vladimír Lengvarský, Minister of Health of Slovakia. He highlighted the importance of adaptive abilities of health systems, mental-health-related matters stemming from isolation, data harmonisation and implementation of technologies. Targeted vaccination campaigns are also key in reaching collective immunity.  

The panel initially started discussing the concerns of OECD countries’ citizens regarding long-term care. It is worrying that the number of patients diagnosed with cancer is down by 40%. We are in a position now where we can restart healthcare systems as soon as possible and provide treatment for these patients.  

The pandemic has also given us a huge opportunity to think about prevention. According to Francesca Colombo, the Head of Health Division of the OECD, only 3% of total health budgets are attributed to prevention. That is not enough to create resilience in populations by addressing underlying conditions and risks.  

Martin Smatana, Associate Fellow in Health, Economic Growth and Sustainability Programme at GLOBSEC suggested that in order to ensure there are incentives for people to take care of their health, healthy people need to be benefitted. This could be done by changing how medical costs are calculated. Building on that, the panel discussed other measures to encourage healthy behaviour such as a focus on education, running targeted communication campaigns both for individuals and populations, as well as stronger interventions in the form of regulatory mechanisms and fiscal policies.  

On transforming health systems, the speakers highlighted the importance of creating flexibility, innovation, and data analytics. Access to innovation and its outcomes need to be equal across the EU as there are currently discrepancies between Western and Eastern Europe in the time in which patients can benefit from any given innovation.  

All panellists agreed that increased investment in health care is crucial and will have long-term benefits. This would allow for speeding up testing and diagnosis which is of the greatest value for patients. It would also help with the digital transformation of health systems which are incredibly outdated. Innovation capacity is essential.  

Although a lot of the issues discussed in this panel precede the crisis, the pandemic made them more prominent and urgent to solve. Lots need to be done to ensure we are ready for infectious diseases outbreaks in future not only in reflecting on lessons learned but also in taking actions. Scaling up research and development and partnerships are crucial to ensure we are prepared for the next crisis.