Jan-Philipp Beck: Is co-creation the key to high value care?

Co-creation is by no means a new concept. It refers to the collaborative development process of products and services with relevant stakeholders or “end users,” and it now crosses most sectors. The key premise of co-creation is to accurately define value, and deliver on that value, so that when the product or service launches, it is in high demand, meets the needs of its direct or indirect customers, and addresses the social, economic, and practical considerations associated with its customer base. 

But its implementation continues to be patchy. In healthcare, the co-creation of solutions alongside clinicians, patients, and citizens who will use them or benefit from them is both logical and necessary. How can we ensure solutions meet their needs if not? However, environmental challenges exist which hinder the speed of advancement in translating this concept from theory to practice. 

Healthcare innovation holds great promise for solving some of the significant healthcare challenges facing Europe (and, indeed, the rest of the world) today—an ageing population, an epidemic of non-communicable diseases, and growing costs of care within healthcare systems that are already cost-constrained. 

Healthcare innovation communities can harness entrepreneurship across research, academia, industry, and healthcare delivery to identify where innovation could have a defined impact, and accelerate solutions to market that can drive efficiencies, reduce costs, and improve patient outcomes. The aim of these communities is to deliver societal impact in the form of widespread, demonstrable socio-economic improvements to society. Societal impact is constructed through the connection between innovation and society, measured against the benefits that really matter to people, and assessed on ethical, legal, and social principles.

For innovative products and services to integrate seamlessly into existing frameworks, they must be built with end users. In healthcare, this includes clinicians, patients, citizens, informal caregivers, and possibly other stakeholders depending on the specificities. Yet, companies working in healthcare often find it difficult to engage directly with such stakeholders when developing their solutions, due to issues such as privacy, ethical, and legal concerns. 

A 2020 report published by the EIT Health Think Tank outlined the “innovation pathway,” or route to market, for health products and services, identifying that co-creation must extend the full length of the pathway. From ideation and identification of the need a technology aims to meet, to testing and proof of value, to launch and adoption, stakeholders are a driving force throughout. In fact, when clinicians, patients, and citizens are fully involved in the process, they are powerful advocates for the implementation of healthcare innovation that meets their needs. This is important in Europe, where we have a lot of fragmentation in the reimbursement and adoption of innovative solutions.

Access to, and engagement with, such stakeholders, however, remains a challenge for innovators as outlined in the report—access to real-world settings for testing (i.e., hospitals and clinics), lack of trust in the process of co-creation between commercial entities and clinicians or patients, misalignment, or indeed mismanagement of misalignment between intended stakeholders, and lack of funding and incentives to facilitate collaboration, are all referenced as barriers. 

Such barriers, however, are certainly not insurmountable, and the rewards associated with overcoming them are significant. With the right frameworks in place, co-creation is feasible and leads to a much greater chance of success—both commercially and in terms of patient outcomes. Therefore, we must continue to encourage and champion co-creation across the healthcare sector.

Within the EIT Health community, we provide a framework from which co-creation can take place, respecting legal and ethical concerns and utilising our vast network to provide the means for collaboration to take place. We do this in a number of ways, including education for patients and citizens, entrepreneurship programmes to support innovators with co-creation or patients in creating their own innovative solutions, and providing “test beds,”or other opportunities for clinicians, patients or citizens to connect with innovators to input into, and test, new potential solutions. 

If the right conditions are provided, new products and services can be developed to offer alleviation of the burden facing healthcare services including preventing disease, speeding up diagnosis and care, offering remote care, improving patient outcomes, and reducing costs of care. But this is best achieved when we work together to design solutions. 

There are still barriers we must overcome, and one of which is standardising approaches and opportunities for co-creation. We would like co-creation in healthcare to become a standard and well-practiced principle across Europe. Only then can we be sure that the solutions we offer to Europeans are truly meeting their needs. 

Jan-Philipp Beck, CEO, EIT Health—an EU funded initiative that works to improve health in Europe

Competing interests: none declared.

The virtual EPF Congress takes place from the 26-29 October 2021. Registration and Programme details available at www.epfcongress.eu. For more information about the European Patients’ Forum (EPF), visit www.eu-patient.eu.