AmCham, Swiss, German Chambers Call for Reforms and More Cooperation Towards High Value Healthcare System in Bulgaria

Yesterday, October 16th, 2023, the international conference “For a more sustainable healthcare system in Bulgaria” was held, organized by the Bulgarian-Swiss Chamber of Commerce (BSCC), German-Bulgarian Chamber of Industry and Commerce (GBICC), American Chamber of Commerce in Bulgaria (ACB) in partnership with the Digital Health Innovation Cluster (DHI Cluster). The event took place at the Grand Hotel Millennium Sofia and was attended by Prof. Dr. Kostadin Angelov, Chairman of the Health Committee at the 49th National Assembly, Prof. Dr. Hristo Hinkov, Minister of Health, Alexander Yolovski, Minister of eGovernment and Milena Stoicheva, Minister of Innovation and Growth. The Conference was attended by key stakeholders in the field such as representatives of associations and patient organizations, professionals from the sector, academic representatives, media, and others with whom the organizers will continue to be in active and productive contact to achieve common goals.

The conference is a logical continuation of the joint efforts started over three years ago by the three bilateral chambers in search of a transparent public dialogue between the stakeholders in the health sector. The three business associations propose the possible establishment of an effective format of cooperation to hold an open discussion to build consensus on the necessary steps to improve the health of Bulgarian citizens and the subsequent development of the health sector in the country.

The goals include:

  • bringing together key stakeholders of the health sector in Bulgaria in an effective working format;
  • discussing and proposing common actions for predictable and preventive health care in the country; and
  • defining the next collaborative steps.

“The unification of the three bilateral chambers on the important topic of healthcare in Bulgaria is a strong sign to all stakeholders – institutions, professional organizations, businesses, patients. We reach out to them to build and implement a common vision for health, through which we would all benefit from a better, longer, and more creative existence. The good health of citizens and the nation is key to the economic prosperity of any country. A good basis for the realization of such a vision is the well-known 2021 report of the American Chamber of Commerce in Bulgaria “Health as an investment”, which has been recognized by many partners and supporters. Its ideas – albeit slowly – are beginning to be implemented in the system,” said Ivan Mihaylov, CEO, American Chamber of Commerce in Bulgaria.

“We live in times of rapid changes in all areas of our life provoked by digitalization. We are witnessing constant innovations that lead to the improvement of the business environment and people’s lives. The main objective of the three chambers is to contribute to the creation of a platform for the transformation of the healthcare system in Bulgaria from reactive to predictable and preventive with the participation of all stakeholders. I believe that today’s conference will mark the beginning of a sustainable process in favor of constantly improving and meeting the highest expectations of such an important topic in Bulgaria. Why should not Bulgaria tomorrow become an attractive modern center for treatment for people from other countries as well?” said Boni Bonev, Chairman of the Board of the Bulgarian-Swiss Chamber of Commerce.

The future of healthcare systems worldwide

The event welcomed Rifat Atun, Professor of Global Health Systems at the Department of Public Health, Harvard University, USA. He presented the solutions that an integrated healthcare system based on the real needs of the patient can provide. Professor Atun stressed that it is important not only to innovate in health solutions but also in those for greater efficiency of the health system in its entirety. He noted that this can only happen when we combine digitalization, focused investments, and infrastructure improvement into one focused strategic process.

A snapshot of healthcare in Bulgaria

 The comparison of the health care system in Bulgaria and its place among the systems of other Central and Eastern European countries was presented by Luka Chichov, Co-Chair of the Health Care Committee of the American Chamber of Commerce in Bulgaria.

Despite the progress in the sector in recent years, “it should be noted that the Bulgarian healthcare system lacks a comprehensive strategic and investment approach to address the worsening demographic trends, increasing and inefficient healthcare costs and Bulgaria’s deteriorating position compared to other EU countries on several health indicators,” he pointed out some of the signs of the problem. But alongside these, there are proven actions and initiatives that can be implemented given the necessary political and union will.

The experts’ call to action includes:
  • Closing the financial gaps in the system.
    • Efficient allocation of resources, especially in hospital care.
    • Search for innovative and effective sources of funding.
    • Focus on prophylaxis, screening, and prevention. Raising awareness.
    • Stabilizing labor force dynamics.
    • Improving outpatient care.
    • Introduction of digital healthcare, including a shift from IT healthcare to Digital Healthcare.

All of these areas for reform would be successful if the efforts of different experts were combined so that a multitude of innovative projects and strategic initiatives could be successfully implemented. One such example would be the Open House Hospital initiative, a successful concept for launching innovative pilot optimization projects in healthcare facilities.

Priority areas in Bulgarian healthcare and the need for digital transformation

Prof. Rifat Atun, Luka Chichov, Dr. Boryana Alexieva, Sava Todorov, Radoy Pavlov, Head of Digital Infrastructure at University Hospital Zurich, Switzerland, and Ivaylo Filippov, CEO, of Information Services EAD all took part in an engaging discussion. The moderator of this panel was Dr. Rosen Dimitrov, Chairman of the Board of the Digital Health Innovation Cluster (DHI Cluster).

An example of a working digitalization in a leading hospital was presented by Radoy Pavlov, who shared the achievements of the hospital where he works and the opportunities for similar implementation in Bulgaria.

Ivaylo Filipov presented the progress on the phased implementation of the National Health Information System and the planned next steps until 2025.

Radoy Pavlov stressed that the technological factor is important, but reviewing the regulatory frameworks in healthcare is key. After their subsequent revision, it is important that this new and enhanced document does not remain only on paper, but is effectively implemented in practice.

Luca Chichov also underlined how important is for all the stakeholders to focus on implementing practical steps for the further generation of the strategic framework of the Bulgarian healthcare system.

Prof. Atun reminded no matter how important is digitalization, it is not an end itself and the stakeholders must focus on improving the overall performance in the sector and the outcomes of this. For him this ocean of data in front of us is of no use if there is no one to analyze it in real-time, but to do so in an effective way, there is a crucial need for a strategic frame for the healthcare system.

L/R: Prof. Rifat Atun, Dr. Rosen Dimitrov, Luka Chichov, Radoy Pavlov, Ivaylo Filipov

Discussion for a more sustainable health system

The final discussion was attended by the Chairman of the Health Committee of the 49th National Assembly Prof. Dr. Kostadin Angelov, the Minister of Health Prof. Dr. Hristo Hinkov, the Minister of Innovation and Growth Milena Stoycheva, and the Minister of e-Government Alexander Yolovski. The session was moderated by Vasil Radoynovski, Head of the Secretariat of the BSTC. They shared the views of the institutions on how to reform the healthcare system.

L/R: Vasil Radoynovski, Prof. Hristo Hinkov, Prof. Kostadin Angelov, Milena Stoycheva, Prof. Rifat Atun, Alexander Yolovski, Boni Bonev

More coverage will follow