Three lessons from COVID-19 that can help us build stronger health systems

How has the world responded to COVID-19 so far? What lessons can we learn now to help us build more resilient health systems in future? These were among the key questions that were explored during the first episode in the ‘Building Resilient Health Systems’ webinar series, which took place on May 8th. Co-chaired by Jeremy Lim, National University of Singapore, and Denis Horgan, Executive Director, ‎European Alliance for Personalised Medicine, the two-hour session was an opportunity for health experts across the Asia-Pacific and European regions to discuss the pandemic response to date, and the lessons that the world can already learn.

Here are three of the key takeaways from the discussion:

A collaborative approach will be required to build resilient health systems 


In effect, all of the world’s health systems have undergone a significant stress test during COVID-19.  The response across individual countries has been very different and largely decided in isolation.  If we are to learn and be better prepared to face the next pandemic, one major learning would be to encourage collaboration and coordination for the betterment of our global citizens.  How might we ensure this happens and what standards could be put in place, between private and public health, between different stakeholders, between different countries? The panel members discussed the need to tackle challenges together, with a common approach, and for countries large and small to show leadership. 

Chunlin Jin, Director of the Shanghai Health Development Research Center, said that while many countries have seen excellent examples of domestic collaboration, “internationally we are still in a stage where we don’t see enough collaboration, we want to see countries unite.” 

Preparedness for the future will require an unprecedented level of co-operation, bringing together different types of stakeholders, ranging from patient organisations, research associations and academia. 

Discussing the importance of having ‘unity in purpose’, Prof. Tikki Pangestu, Visiting Professor, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and Former Director of WHO Research Policy, and Mary Harney, Former Tánaiste and Former Minister for Health, Ireland, showed how two very different countries (Singapore and Ireland respectively) handled the response,  with collaboration at the centre:

All of the panel members were clear on this need for partnership, for a broad coalition for change.  One that maintains a dialogue between stakeholders and that shares best practices and lessons learned across borders. 


COVID-19 has shown that health spend must be viewed as an investment, not a cost, and this investment needs to include better use of data


Dr Stanimir Hasardzhiev, Chairperson, National Patients’ Organization Bulgaria, pointed out the need to reposition the money spent on health systems preparedness as an investment, not a cost:

This led to a dialogue on investment in data.  Governments will need to give greater consideration to the application of health data and health tech going forward. Looking to the power of data, the panel agreed this might be the biggest missed opportunity during the COVID-19 response.

Prof Joanne Hackett, General Partner, Healthcare at IZY Capital, felt that data could have played a more influential role; “COVID-19 has highlighted that some of these great data repositories could actually be better and greater if they were combined in a slightly different way… by having a data driven healthcare system, one is actually able to make better decisions for the individual, which puts a more personalised aspect to it, but also allows that data to be aggregated to make better decisions for population health as a whole.”

Bogi Eliasen, Copenhagen Institute for Future Studies, spoke to the “explosion of tele-medicine”, a technology we have had for many years but had not used. That changed, particularly in Europe, during the pandemic, as behaviours and attitudes changed. Dr Krishna Reddy, Cardiologist and Healthcare Reformist, countered that tele-medicine is not new to India, and has been a mainstay of health there with clinicians informally working this way for many years. 

Dr Reddy added that the pandemic may act as a push for countries to use digital and data-driven practices even more, that now is the time to capitalise on that opportunity and public interest; “There is a need for a systems approach to digital health. There is a policy impetus, there is a public awareness, and there is both a readiness and ability to use digital data. We needed that convergence.”

Mary Harney agreed that data was not leveraged to its full potential during the pandemic response.  This is something governments will need to review in the months ahead; “we have so much data in our healthcare systems and we're not able to use that to the benefit of patients to deliver better outcomes. This pandemic is a wakeup call for all of us, and I hope that we heed it. And if we do, I think our healthcare systems will be more resilient, more robust.”


For data to live up to its full potential, building public trust is key


If a potential silver lining from the pandemic response is a review of how data can help make health systems more efficient and more resilient, how can we ensure there is public buy in? How can we ensure we are bringing in data to support innovation in health systems in a transparent way?

Prof Tikki Pangestu discussed the role of trust with respect to the work of WHO, reaffirming that our role should be “to strengthen international solidarity on the basis of trust, to collectively agree that the overall goal is to save humanity.”

Bogi Eliasen elaborated on the need for public trust when it comes to data sharing; “We need to have accountability, traceability and transparency - if we don't get this institutional trust, it's going to be very hard to actually go further once the crisis is over.”

Looking to the Asia-Pacific perspective, Associate Prof Leanne Raven, CEO, Crohn’s and Colitis Australia, stressed the role legislation can play in helping to ensure there is public trust in how health data is handled:

Denis Horgan admitted that “it's very hard to regulate the future. We often don't know how innovation will evolve and take different shapes. This pandemic has highlighted the role for the power of data and the role of digital tools to drive forward the response to COVID-19.”

It is, however, possible to use data well for the betterment of all citizens. Joanne Hackett spoke at length about how Genomics England worked hard to gain public trust in how data was collected and used and stressed the importance of absolute transparency and consent.

Jeremy Lim surmised that in order to make data work better for everyone, building on that public trust is critical; “I do worry that governments have not invested enough in building up that trust, and being very clear around transparency and the voice of the patient, they are really at the centre of all of this - that the more people give in terms of data privacy for the collective good, the more they themselves individually benefit, and the more society benefits. I think many of our countries are at different stages in this journey, but I certainly hope that there will be champions globally that will help to unite us all and march us into this better world.”

While all panel members agreed that the use of data is key for the future of our health systems, it is important to not lose sight of the human lens while making technological advances. Rachel Frizberg, APAC Area Lead, Roche, added that; “now is really the time for us to reimagine our healthcare systems together. By bringing this human lens alongside a digitally led approach, that has this potential to transform the lives of millions of people across the whole world and deliver the best possible care for patients.” 



Join our next episode in the ‘Building Resilient Health Systems’ webinar series, where we will continue this discussion with our experts, focusing on data-driven solutions for a post-COVID world. Get involved in this discussion by using #FPHresilient on Twitter.


Register here:



Relating articles and reports: 


Download the in-depth report by Denis Horgan, Executive Director, ‎European Alliance for Personalised Medicine here:

EAPM FPI Report 2020 How to build resilient health systems after COVID-19


Read a summary on POLITICO from our co-chairs Denis Horgan and Jeremy Lim here:

COVID-19: Better health system data, resilience and priority setting


Global public health expert Dr. Jeremy Lim examines key learnings on how the COVID-19 pandemic has already driven digital innovation and transformation in healthcare, and how this could help drive us towards a more personalised healthcare future. Download the PDF here:

Appeared in The Economist Digital Edition Issue date: 23rd May 2020, Asia Pacific Edition



Watch the full discussion here: 


To watch the full discussion from episode 1, please see the full webinar video below:


To watch the full discussion from episode 2, please see the full webinar video below:

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