40 million Euros of funding for healthcare innovation in Belgium until 2024: find out who is eligible and how to apply
We interviewed Erik Vertommen, program manager of eHealth, an action plan of the Federal Public Service of Belgium, to find out more about the funding available for innovation in healthcare which is part of the European Union Recovery and Resilience Facility
eHealth, a project of the Federal Public Service of Belgium (FPS Public Health), has around 40 million Euros available to fund healthcare innovation until 2024. That’s because they received funding as a part of the European Union Recovery and Resilience Facility, aimed at helping Member States to recover after COVID-19.
Erik Vertommen, program manager of eHealth and expert at our upcoming event Hack Healthcare, explains that the funding is set aside for the industry and private organisations – not government. In eHealth, there are 10 subprojects to which companies can apply, ranging from secondary use of health data and telemedicine to empowerment of citizens.
At our upcoming event Hack Healthcare 2022, we will be tackling challenges that are in line with some subprojects of eHealth, such as “Digital Front Door”, “Treatment Context for Patients and “Empowering MS Patients Through Communication”. See a full list of challenges here. Needless to say, Hack Healthcare is an outstanding opportunity to develop projects that could be funded via this facility.
We invited Erik to tell us more about the funding, how the money is distributed, which projects they are working on and, of course, who can apply to receive it.
Can you tell us more about these funds for healthcare innovation and what exactly they are for?
This funding is situated in what they call the European Union Recovery and Resilience Facility, which is quite some money that was made available by Europe to support Member States – including Belgium – to make a recovery after the COVID-19 crisis. The procedure for that was that every Member State could enter an unlimited number of projects and, on the EU level, it would be decided whether this project would be funded or not. So we, from the part of eHealth, entered a project with the name I206. I206 is about eHealth and it was approved by the Belgian government – and later on by the European decision makers. Normally, the EU fund is from 2021 until 2026, but we, in our project proposal, limited it by the end of 2024.
Let’s talk about numbers: what is exactly the budget available?
So, the project that we are talking about, I206, is about 40 million Euros for a period of four years.
And who can apply for the funding?
A main thing I would like to emphasise on this facility by Europe is that the funding is oriented to the industry and not to government organisations. So the private organisations, that’s where the funding has to go. It’s not the intention of the funding to increase the number of people in the government, but just to make sure that, through these projects, the industry gets a lot of money to recover and to have a restart, let’s say, on their activities.
Now, of course there is quite an organisation behind it because we can’t just distribute money. We have the same classical way of working through public tenders, and it will continue to be used, but the main difference is that the money is already available. The money is there, so there is no discussion on whether there is a budget.
How will the public tenders application work for this specific funding?
Now, these public tenders will be published by the projects themselves and projects mainly led by project leaders from the federal administrations. So these are two main directions we can go: we can recruit – for a temporary base – external consultants with specific capabilities and expertise, and on the other side, we can make a public tender for the development of a specific application or a specific system.
The structure and organisation of a public tender is nothing new. It’s something that we already know for a long time, and it has been used all the time by the administration. So this will still be the case when we go for European funding like this one. It doesn’t mean that the industry has to subscribe or something like that, like saying “I want that funding”, they just need to just react to public tenders, or an assignment of a public tender to a certain party that will allow the funding to be transferred to this industry. This year, there will be at least five public tenders published.
Ok, so after they have reacted to the public tender, how will this money be distributed?
It’s not clear in which form we will distribute the money after the assignment of the public tender. It can be the case that we say that this is a public tender for a development of a software and we select one software development company, then we pay the software development company to develop those capabilities or those systems. Another possibility might be that we select more than one software company or provider and that we pay both parties an amount to have a system available or several systems available. Or we can say – and then that’s the third option – that these are the criteria that we want this system to be responding to, and a kind of home location after the end, and every company that has proof that is following all those requirements can have funding from us. Perhaps we can also say it’s not only the development, but also the aftercare: once we go into production and it’s been distributed, let’s say, to care providers, also the operational support to this care provider is a part of the public tender that we are writing.
Does the EU have any interference on how the money is distributed?
The EU doesn’t say anything about it in this way, it’s just saying that this is the funding and it has to follow the legal rules within each Member State. There is, although, from the European part, quite some following up. I mean, they don’t just write a check, we must have a number of milestones and targets, and you have to prove as a Member State that these milestones have been reached. If you prove that or when you have proven that, then the EU can transfer the money to the Member State.
What would you say that is the highlight or the big thing about this specific funding?
The big advantage is that there is quite some budget available. It’s 40 million Euros over a period of four or five years. It’s quite something, you can do a lot of things with that money. So we must make sure that we reach our targets and that we provide something that’s useful and operational being used by the stakeholders, being them care providers, the care institutions, but also the patient and the citizen himself. So this is what we are going to do.
Talking again about I206, how many projects there are and what is the aim of it on a bigger scale?
I206 is divided into 10 subprojects and each subproject has a clear scope and a description of what this project is about. A number of the subprojects in this global eHealth project are initiatives that are already ongoing and that are already there, but with the extra funding, we can speed it up and make a bigger scope, if necessary, so we can advance first much faster in the implementation of eHealth in Belgium.
Can you go into a bit of details of some I206 subprojects and what are they about?
One of the most interesting is subproject 6, about health data, more specifically, secondary use of data. There is quite a program being developed actually at the moment, I must say, with an entire amount of 7 million Euros over a period of four years to have a governance, a definition and a working model on how companies and industry can access anonymised sick and health data. But there is a flow that’s being developed with other supporting projects. So this is just one subproject from the entire 40 million Euros projects.
Another point that might be interesting is also teleconsulting and telemedicine, everything that goes around telemedicine, which has boomed during the COVID-19 crisis. There is an action, the subproject 5, that’s going to be about operational excellence on teleconsulting and developing all the necessary points and flows to have operational and useful teleconsulting, including discussions on payback and all those kinds of things. Aside from health data secondary use and teleconsulting, there are, let’s say, a classical number of projects that already have been started within the action plan eHealth in the last 2 to 3 years, like electronic prescriptions, not only for drugs, but also for other activities. For example, a generalist saying you have to go to the physiotherapist, well, this is an electronic prescription that we can send. So those kinds of things are also in the global project.
The final thing that I would like to emphasise is a project called “empowerment of the citizen”. The idea is that the role of the citizen-patient should be much more active than it is today. The patient should be a real part of his health and not only a spectator looking at what’s happening and seeing all the results, but not having any possibility to intervene in his own health and things like that. What we are thinking about is, for instance, all the system that we already have on what are the drugs that are prescribed, what are the drugs they are being delivered by the pharmacy, and perhaps we could add from the patient is their input such as “I’m not taking these drugs, but instead I’m also taking every day another drug that is not prescribed, but it’s freely distributed”. So for the care provider, it might be very interesting to know exactly what the citizen is taking every day. This is an active role from the citizen in his own health. Also the data from his variables could be shared by the citizen with all the stakeholders, all the care providers within the ecosystem eHealth.
If you want to know more, you can of course talk in person with Erik Vertommen at Hack Healthcare, between 31 May and 01 June, or send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.