Awareness is growing of the dangers of healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) in Europe, and conversations are beginning to taking place around how to leverage data to combat these infections and antimicrobial resistance (AMR). A panel of experts from diverse backgrounds at the European Health Forum Gastein put their heads together to expound on problems, solutions, and work already being done in the field.


The European Health Forum Gastein is an annual meeting bringing together heads of public health, pharmaceutical, and regulatory affairs, and offers networking and collaboration opportunities for health industry experts. One particular session, “Data for Safer Care,” brought together a diverse array of panellists touching on different aspects of the issue. 


HAIs and AMR are gaining in importance in the public health arena. According to the European Center for Disease Control (ECDC), more than four million infections occur in hospitals alone each year, reaching a total of 8.9 million when combined with data from long-term care facilities. Furthermore, an estimated one in three strains of bacteria associated with these infections is resistant to antibiotics. 


In Europe, artificial intelligence (AI) is being leveraged through electronic surveillance systems which monitor and collect data on bothHAIs and AMR. The case for increasing the use of AI in this field is strong. Experts such as Andrea Ammon, director of the ECDC suggest that AI leads to timely detection of alert microorganisms and outbreaks and eliminates subjective interpretation of data.


However, embracing digital technologies in such a specific field comes with its share of challenges. The consensus in the forum among the participants was that barriers to utilising data for safer care include data protection issues and GDPR, the reliability of algorithms, lack of trained staff. Federico Lega, president of the European Health Management Association suggested that people are reactionary and problem-driven, which leads to a lack of vision and focus on leadership when it comes to dealing with healthcare-associated infections. Fiona Garin, senior director of strategic marketing for Europe at Becton Dickinson emphasized that some barriers to surveillance in AMR are that technology and infrastructure are out of date, it is difficult to get reliable data, and more resources and investments are needed to enhance the capability of technical equipment.


In some European countries, steps are already being taken to tackle the problem of HAIs and AMR with technological solutions. Spain, with its abundance of public hospitals, has been conducting prevalence surveys of infections for the last 30 years, which has led to a 35 percent reduction in hospital infections, as explained by Fernando Simon, healthcare alerts & emergencies coordinator at Spain’s Ministry of Health. Also in Spain, a pilot project called PIRASOA established a digital platform to conduct quarterly surveillance, as described by German Peñalva of the EU Joint Action on Antimicrobial Resistance & Healthcare-Associated Infections (JAMRAI). 


Tyra Krause, head of infectious disease epidemiology & prevention at Statens Serum Institut, commented that Denmark is monitoring HAIs with healthcare databases and patient registers. Sinikka Salo of Finland’s Ministry of Social Affairs and Health reported that the country has been conducting surveillance for the last 20 years on a voluntary and confidential basis through a digital tool called HAIPRO which reports safety incidents. Since its inception, two million notifications have been reported.


The general consensus at European Health Forum Gastein was that AIe and digital technology, despite its barriers and challenges, will propel healthcare forward and serve to combat HAIs and AMR