Closing the digital skills gap of the workforce in Europe
During a discussion on the digital skills of healthcare workers in Austria last week, Sara Cerdas, a member of the European Parliament and a doctor by training, described her own experience. As a doctor working in the Portuguese national system, she had noticed generational disparities among healthcare professionals. Upgrading opportunities were non-existent, Cerdas added.
In Portugal, better training, more focused on digital, is needed. “There’s a lot to improve, but there’s also a lot that’s been done in the last ten years,” she said.
Across Europe, gaps persist within countries, between regions and even between different professions, said Matthias Wismar, program manager at the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies, which co-organised the event with the Gastein European Health Forum. “Very often, in many European countries, digital tools are indeed available, but they are not used as much as we would like because there are significant skills gaps in the healthcare workforce.”
Create a digital service infrastructure
With health systems being the responsibility of Member States, policy makers are asking the question: what is the EU’s role in bridging this gap?
A number of major European initiatives are on the horizon that will make digital skills increasingly necessary in healthcare. The European Health Data Area aims to promote the exchange of patient data and create an infrastructure of digital services that supports research and treatment. One of the goals is that it will reduce the bureaucratic burden on workers, Cerdas pointed out. “With this expected and upcoming new digitization in the healthcare sector, we must demand that healthcare professionals have the opportunity to improve their skills and abilities in order to be prepared for all these different digital tools that aim to simplify and facilitate their work,” she said. noted.
According to Dirk Van den Steen, Deputy Head of Unit in the Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety, the EU is developing several policy strands to develop the digital skills of healthcare workers as part of its broader approach to digital transformation. The Skills Pact, adopted in 2020, aims to promote digital learning across all sectors of the economy, including health and care. A master plan has also been put in place for a digital skills strategy in the field of health and care.
Digital tools can help reduce labor demand
Isabelle Zablit-Schmitz, from the French Ministry of Solidarity and Health, suggested that the arrival of new digital tools meant that digital training and the sharing of good practices needed to be supported at European level. But it could touch on sensitive governance issues, Wismar thought. “To what extent will European regulations then inform national programs or national systems of continuous professional development? »
As they grapple with these questions, policymakers hope that digital tools will help meet the challenges of the future. “We know the demand for labor will only increase,” Van den Steen said. “So hoping that if we have the right tools, skills and development, that will help ease the burden.”