Last Friday, AmCham Belgium closed our Year of Healthcare – an initiative started in September 2020 and led by our Innovative Healthcare Committee (IHC) – with an in-person event at Orsi Academy, a state-of-the-art (medical) robotic training center near Ghent, and the launch of our newest publication, The Importance of Healthcare Companies in Belgium.
Prof. Dr. Alex Mottrie, CEO of Orsi, kicked off the event with some background information on his world-leading organization. Among others, he explained Orsi’s inspiring mission to “improve healthcare by offering high-quality training.” According to him, it is essential to break away from old-school training, as current surgery methods are still the source of too many complications, and to embrace innovation.
During a networking lunch, attendees had the opportunity to see first-hand what Orsi stands for by visiting Medtronic’s on-site robotic cluster. They learned about the current challenges in the field of human surgery and how robotics can provide innovative solutions. They could even try out some of Medtronic’s high-tech robots, which require human intervention and supervision.
Fabrice Degenève, Managing Director at Johnson & Johnson Medical Belux and Vice-Chair of the IHC, then presented the Committee’s new report on The Importance of Healthcare Companies in Belgium.
The Importance of Healthcare Companies in Belgium
The goal for the new publication is to go beyond the economic figures (in terms of number of jobs created, investments, exports…) by showcasing how international companies contribute to fostering and strengthening the Belgian healthcare ecosystem.
The report features testimonials from 30 companies in various sectors, all active in healthcare, with concrete examples focusing on training; hospital and patient care; overall health of the population; research; and the industrial footprint. And, in order to ensure that Belgium keeps its competitive edge, the IHC also puts forward updated policy recommendations, stressing the importance of collaboration with and between all stakeholders.
As innovation is of great importance to IHC members, it was no surprise that Prof. Dr. Giovanni Briganti’s keynote speech focused on how to innovate in healthcare using artificial intelligence (AI). He explained that innovation can help address a series of issues healthcare professionals are facing in their daily work (e.g.: administrative burden) and free them from low-value tasks which cause them to lose valuable time, which they cannot spend with their patients. In Belgium, AI is now mostly seen as a positive development in healthcare, but it is still not considered a strategic priority. Innovative solutions too often tend to be perceived by hospitals as a cost, but Prof. Dr. Briganti would rather call them “an investment.”
To conclude the event, Joan Van Loon, Belux Enterprise Business Unit Leader Public, Life Sciences, Telco & Utilities at IBM Belgium and Chair of the IHC, moderated a panel discussion with Robby De Caluwé, Member of Parliament for Open VLD; Kathleen Depoorter, Member of Parliament for N-VA; Karel Van de Sompel, Country Manager Pfizer Belgium and Luxembourg; and Xavier Vanrolleghem, Head of Department Invest at Flanders Investment & Trade.
Inevitably, the first question focused on the COVID-19 pandemic. Panelists agreed on some of the positive aspects demonstrated in this crisis, including our society’s resilience and the key role played by companies operating in Belgium, but as both MPs highlighted, it is undeniable that many things could be improved in our country.
In terms of collaboration between healthcare stakeholders, Robby De Caluwé stressed the need for more collaboration at EU level and for a more efficient healthcare system in Belgium. As an industry leader, Karel Van de Sompel drew attention to how Belgium could be perceived as too complex by foreign investors and deter companies from investing here. To tackle that, Xavier Vanrolleghem explained that Flanders Investment & Trade and the other regional investment agencies can help companies to navigate Belgium’s sometimes complex structure.
We need to ensure that innovation here remains cutting-edge: complacency is the enemy.
Karel Van de Sompel, Country Manager Pfizer Belgium and Luxembourg
Our panelists went on to discuss the role of patients. When asked whether they have a seat at the table, Kathleen Depoorter said that they do, but without a right to vote. She believes that patient platforms should play a more prominent role. Robby De Caluwé would, on the other hand, focus on improving health literacy. For Karel Van de Sompel the main question that should always be asked, is: “Is the patient getting better off it?”
On the role of the private sector, both Robby De Caluwé and Kathleen Depoorter agreed on the need to dialogue with companies to learn as much as possible from them, for instance on future trends. Xavier Vanrolleghem then insisted on the need to “give innovation a seat at the table” to attract foreign investors from abroad, because Belgium has all the assets to have an even stronger ecosystem. Karel Van de Sompel found it essential for companies to have a voice in the public debate, because, as he put it: “People will make the right decisions if those are science-based.” He therefore insisted on the need to move from collaboration to co-creation.
As Chair of the IHC, Joan Van Loon concluded the event and the Year of Healthcare by thanking everyone – the various events organized throughout the Year of Healthcare were only possible thanks to the support of many IHC members and member companies.
Stay tuned for new initiatives from the IHC in the coming months, especially through its extremely active Subcommittees:
- Integrated Care Subcommittee;
- Personalized Healthcare Subcommittee;
- Real World Data Subcommittee;
- Outreach subcommittee