Belgium is known for its highly skilled and multilingual workforce, geographical location and innovation clusters. But where does the country stand in comparison to other economies? In the last part of our Belgium in the Ranks series, we take a look at Belgium’s healthcare system through the lens of the World Economic Forum’s Competitiveness Report 2015-2016 (WEF) and other rankings.
A thriving economy is intimately tied to a healthy workforce. Although Belgium has a well-developed healthcare system and above-average productivity, there is room for improvement when it comes to citizens’ health and the broader healthcare ecosystem.
Belgium ranks 3rd of 140 economies in overall health and primary education in the WEF. However, the majority of the WEF’s health rankings focus on communicable diseases and their impact on productivity. Belgium is, for example, 63rd out of 140 for HIV prevalence. Nevertheless, the WEF points to a shift toward non-communicable diseases – cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes, for instance. This paradigm shift in health and healthcare calls for innovative treatments and, more importantly, a higher degree of patient empowerment. By co-managing one’s health with healthcare professionals and support systems, the focus should move from the disease to the person. New technologies can enable this transition to a patient-centric healthcare system.
eHealth is a promising tool to communicate with citizens and help balance costs, quality and access to services. Belgium ranks 10th out of 28 EU countries for its ‘digital public services’ – which includes eHealth – according to the most recent Digital Economy and Society Index. To realize the full potential of eHealth, the overall healthcare ecosystem must be reformed. Swift data transfers between all stakeholders, such as hospitals, patients, public authorities, research institutes and industry, supported by an effective regulatory framework, can help the effective use of ‘big data’. A fully informed healthcare network provides for more coherent communication and efficient decision-making.
Healthcare, including eHealth, needs an extensive and strong R&D ecosystem. Belgium is already a leader in R&D, and businesses active in the country invest significantly in innovation. According to the WEF, Belgium ranks 10th out of 140 on companies’ investment in R&D, and the country is in the top 5 for the quality of its scientific research institutions. Concretely, these R&D activities allow patients access to innovative medicines and medical devices. Indeed, Belgium ranks first in Europe and second in the world in the number of clinical trials per capita, according to pharma.be.
Belgium can build on this expertise by continuously enhancing its healthcare ecosystem. Implementing fiscal measures to spur research, such as a tax shelter in biotech, can be a first step. A stable and predictable framework is also essential in the biopharmaceutical industry, an industry that relies heavily on large, long-term investments. Finally, Belgium can further benefit from a cross-sectoral approach and encourage collaboration between the pharmaceutical, medical devices, ICT, human resources and financial sectors, among others. AmCham Belgium’s recently established Innovative Healthcare Committee provides exactly such a cross-sectoral platform to envision the future of healthcare in Belgium. By focusing on patients and embracing the digital revolution, Belgium can climb the WEF ranks in terms of knowledge, productivity and health.