Digitalisation has become a buzz word in in the global life sciences sector. In Italy, digital transformation has taken on special significance as one of the principal goals encompassed in the country’s National Recovery and Resilience Plan and a priority within its healthcare modernisation plans.


Novel solutions came out of the COVID crisis

During the pandemic the entire Italian healthcare system, like in other countries, was under unprecedented pressure. The strain not only revealed some of its shortcomings, but also compelled regulators and industry to seek creative solutions.

“Our association was part of a joint task force along with the Italian Medicines Agency (AIFA). The collaboration with AIFA was key, especially because they had to work from home and managed to digitalise the [drug registration] process in a couple of days. It was an opportunity for the agency to reshape and digitalise its administrative operations,” says Michele Uda, director general of Egualia.

Huzur Devletsah, Eli Lilly’s president & GM Italy, Central Eastern Europe, Russia/CIS & Israel, agrees that the pandemic pushed the system to advance: “Digitalization can drive an unprecedented enhancement of the entire healthcare value chain. During COVID-19, the Italian government did an excellent job in this regard, boosting digital prescriptions and making telemedicine widely available.”


Transformation already underway

Now, with a total of EUR 49.2 billion being allocated to promoting Italy’s digital transformation, this vast area encompasses everything from the digitalisation of the public administration to incentives for the digital transition of the private sector and reform is already underway.

“The Italian Parliament has adopted important measures regarding the governance of digital health, entrusting AGENAS with the role of “agency for digital health”. The objective is to ensure the digitalisation of services and processes in healthcare equally throughout the national territory,” says Domenico Mantoan, GM at AGENAS, the Italian National Agency for Regional Health Services.

The benefits of the digital shift have already become evident: “Thanks to technology, physicians and patients are closer than ever before, maximising the benefit of diagnoses and treatments beyond the walls of hospitals or doctors’ offices,” says Marcello Cattani, country lead, president & managing director, Italy & Malta at Sanofi.

Moreover, companies are riding the digital wave, launching their own initiatives. Accord Healthcare’s associate VP for Italy & Greece, Massimiliano Rocchi, says Accord is using digital solutions to patient-centric ends: “One such solution is an app for oncology patients that gives them a better understanding of a drug’s potential side effects and of their disease.”

In addition, the industry is building partnerships with local authorities to develop digital capabilities: “Medtronic is actively partnering with four regional authorities on several interesting initiatives on telemedicine, digital health and infrastructure. More specifically our goal is to co-create a new offering for disease management,” says Michele Perrino, regional VP NW Europe & Italy, cardiovascular commercial partnership WE at Medtronic.

And digital advances are also extending to clinical trials: “It was important to develop new procedures, changing the general approach to clinical trials so that digital tools could fill some of the gaps. We discovered a new way of collaboration with health authorities to decentralize some activities and supply medicines directly to patients instead of them travelling to health centres that were saturated,” says Massimo Scaccabarozzi, former president of Farmindustria.


A long road ahead

There is still a lot to be done. In the managing director of UCB, Federico Chinni’s view, “[an important] healthcare objective is to digitalise health records to move to a data-based healthcare system. Even though this process has been very successful so far, there is still a lot to be done; many regions must catch up and the communication between the private and public sectors has to flow better.”

And some remain sceptical about the appropriate use of the recovery plan cash for digital. For chairman, managing director and GM for Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Malta at Astellas, Giuseppe Maduri, a more future-looking approach is required: “We are very happy that Italian healthcare is set to receive this funding, but we feel that the strategic thinking about how to allocate it should be improved. A long-term transformative vision is needed. Spending heavily on such tools without investing in supporting infrastructure would not be smart.”