On 14 September 2022, in her State of the Union address, President Ursula von der Leyen announced the European Commission’s proposal for 2023 to become a European Year of Skills. In listing among several employment sectors, she noted one from among the health and care field; another was in the IT domain: “Europe lacks truck drivers, waiters and airport workers, as well as nurses, engineers and IT technicians.”
With her focus on a context of high employment merged with staff shortages, Mme von der Leyen stressed the need for:
- Investment in professional education and upskilling.
- The matching of skills’ needs with people’s ambitions.
- Attraction of the right skills in/to the European continent.
- Recognition of qualifications, including on the part of third country nationals.
- Better cooperation with companies.
The result of such a set of actions will be to “make Europe more attractive for skilled workers”.
Clearly, digital health literacy is one of these important skills sets.
Europe: Digital solutions, digital technologies, and digital health literacy
Digital solutions for health, and digital technologies, may result in many benefits:
- an increase in the well-being of millions of citizens.
- a radical change in the delivery of health and care services to patients.
- support for:
- the continuity of care across borders.
- the transition to new care models, centred on people’s needs.
- a shift from hospital-centred systems to more community-based and integrated care structures.
- a better use of increasing volumes of health data in research and innovation to support policymaking, personalised healthcare, better health interventions and more effective, accessible and resilient health care systems.
By optimising workflows and transforming the science and practice of health-related decision-making, health professionals will be empowered to steer and manage the provision of health care pro-actively. Patients and citizens will obtain benefits too.
Digital health literacy, skills and trust among healthcare workers, as well as the general population, including patients, are all essential in order to advance health promotion, prevent disease, and deliver integrated services based on people’s needs.
Some 8 million job openings are estimated to be needed in the healthcare sector over the next 10 years.
Many of the tasks involved in these jobs will need people who have solid digital skills. Indeed, the demand for both basic and advanced digital skills will grow significantly by 2030. This is at least partly driven by healthcare organisations’ need for successful deployment of new digital technologies, like artificial intelligence (AI), that can improve the quality of care and increase efficiency in Member States’ health systems. (The use of (social) robotics may also be involved here.)
This significant skills gap in the healthcare workforce will be made worse by demographic ageing and rises in people experiencing chronic diseases. Filling this gap is crucial. An important step towards the goal of filling this gap is the provision of upskilling and re-skilling opportunities to create a digitally-ready health workforce.
The digital transition is one of the main priorities of the European Commission. Hence, several of its programmes are supporting many new initiatives and funds dedicated to improving digital skills. They include: Horizon Europe, Digital Europe Programme, Erasmus +, EU4Health, countries’ Recovery and Resilience Plans, as well as in the Digital Education Plan and the Pact for Skills.
The launch of BeWell
The Erasmus+ project, BeWell, was launched in July 2022. It offers fundamental support for the European Pact for Skills.
In its first months of work, the BeWell consortium has started to formulate the activities needed to develop a European skills strategy on both digital skills in healthcare and green skills. EHTEL is one of BeWell’s 25-member consortium.
BeWell’s plans were covered in a 22 September 2022 European Parliament-supported online webinar about strengthening the resilience and skills of Europe’s future health workforce.
Watch out for a BeWell Call for Commitments to its activities in early- to mid-2023! Plan to get involved, as an EHTEL member or friend, by announcing what your organisation, region, or Member State is doing to support digital health literacy.