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Never waste a crisis: what has the Italian healthcare system learned?

Digital format, 15/06/2020, National Roundtable

The emergency that erupted in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic has some important lessons to offer the Italian healthcare system. Although it is clearly difficult to compare the healthcare models of regions affected asymmetrically by the virus, it is undeniable that coordination at various levels has proven to be one of the system’s weak points. The situation has generated confusion along the chain of control and implementation of measures, and immediate intervention regarding operational aspects – even before institutional prerogatives – is imperative.

Another pressing concern is regional health systems and their considerable autonomy, which has led many regions to make drastic cutbacks in favor of other areas of investments. Instead, regional medicine needs the kind of reinforcing that new technologies can offer by allowing doctors constant access to patients. Also crucial is a more decisive approach to prevention involving not only general practitioners but also other professionals, such as pharmacists, in such a way as to create a more wide-ranging territorial coverage.

In any case, the crisis has done much to emphasize the importance of the public health system. In subsequent phases, it is going to be advisable, as it has been for other necessary technological innovations, to consider the kinds of public/private partnerships that can contribute to the competitiveness of a country such as Italy that is a leader in both pharmaceuticals and biomedicine.

Human capital is going to be a pivotal factor in the country’s recovery. Italian healthcare personnel tend to be in the older age bracket, and often do not make the best use of the technical and professional skills that complement medical expertise.

In summary, redesigning the healthcare system means departing from Italy’s many strongpoints. It will be essential that the resources for this new phase not be squandered and not contribute to perpetuating unproductive spending or to filling pre-existing gaps. Economic and organizational planning approaches must be strengthened, as well as controls on regional deficits. Success will lie in re-establishing economic balances and investing in instruments capable of updating and improving the healthcare system, even if that means placing it under independent oversight. Most importantly, the healthcare system is going to have to be equipped with efficient and inter-operational data systems capable of gathering scientific data and making them available and of simplifying patients’ lives.