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TO-REACH sets an agenda for the cross-country transfer of innovations in healthcare

Whilst the benefits of greater translational cooperation in healthcare are widely acknowledged, its realisation is overdue. The TO-REACH project has prepared a Strategic Research Agenda to boost it and enable better health services and systems.

Health

Europe’s health services and systems are under pressure, and COVID-19 was just the latest symptom of a more profound and fundamental ailment partly caused by a lack of translational cooperation. The question is, how do we translate this widely acknowledged assessment into large-scale, sustainable and effective countermeasures? The EU has answered this question with TO-REACH (Transfer of Organisational innovations for Resilient, Effective, equitable, Accessible, sustainable and Comprehensive Health Services and Systems), a coordination and support action (CSA) tasked with laying the groundwork for a joint European research programme. Its goal: Building on Europe’s diversity to produce research evidence supporting more resilient, effective, equitable, accessible, sustainable and comprehensive healthcare. The project supports transnational learning, enhances cooperation between ministries and funding bodies, and highlights joint interests worth further investment while pointing at fragmented and duplicate efforts. “We have been identifying means to overcome persistent barriers between different healthcare subsystems,” says Walter Ricciardi, professor of Hygiene and Public Health at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Rome. “We notably uncovered several gaps in the way we currently evaluate the transferability of health services and policy innovations. To ensure success of such transfers, we need to know more about the context allowing for innovation success in a specific country and the impact of organisational arrangements. We need to identify the nature of evidence needed to inform transfers of service and policy innovations, and the factors facilitating or hindering the implementation and scaling of innovations from other countries. Finally, we need evidence of the impact of service and policy innovations on performance.”

Targeting policymakers

To enable more effective transfers, TO-REACH brings together a unique consortium of governmental and funding organisations from 20 countries within and beyond Europe. All partners share the same ambition: They want to systematically learn about the organisation of care in other settings and to build upon the challenges and priorities identified under TO-REACH. Thanks to a mapping of policy documents and strategic roadmaps at national and international level, national expert consultations in partner countries, and an online consultation with the wider scientific and stakeholder communities, the project identified 10 such priority areas. Those include the integration of services, the redefinition of hospitals, efforts to improve mental health, person-centred health service and systems, and increased concern for the health workforce. TO-REACH is set for completion in May 2021, but its main foreseen output – the Strategic Research Agenda (SRA) – is already wrapped up. “The document provides a European strategy to advance our knowledge and understanding of the adoption, implementation, potential scale-up and joint development of service and policy innovations. It supports their translation to other settings within and across countries. It is built around three components: identified priority challenges, review of existing literature, and proposed strategic research priorities through a conceptual model,” Ricciardi explains. Project partners are currently drafting an executive summary of the SRA for policymakers. Ricciardi hopes that the project’s efforts will help build the appropriate framework for successful cross-country cooperation. “Putting the SRA into practice requires a partnership and cooperation approach, bringing together stakeholders including funders, researchers, policymakers, practitioners and the wider public. In fact, too often innovative solutions that work in small-scale pilot studies fail to live up to expectations when rolled out in national strategies, or fail to transfer from one country to another as a result of contextual differences,” he concludes. “A common vision based on mutual learning and collaboration among countries and regions in Europe is key to allowing a transformation of health and care systems. It is key to making them stronger and more efficient and to tackling existing and future challenges.”

Keywords

TO-REACH, transfer of innovation, healthcare, COVID-19, translational cooperation, transnational learning, Strategic Research Agenda, SRA

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