The U.S. healthcare industry, while expanding rapidly, is also saddled with challenges including spiraling patient care costs, growing R&D expenditure, the ongoing struggle of finding well-trained workers and—the bane of the massive healthcare IT sector—the increasing demand for privacy given all the information now being gathered electronically. Underpinning this situation is the expanding role that technology is playing in improving patient outcomes and overall efficiency, which means rapid demand for not just innovative solutions but the tech-savvy personnel needed to create and operate them.
Given this powerful ecosystem, many U.S. life sciences companies are looking to Ireland as a hub where they can expand their global business as well as support the development of innovative healthcare solutions. Among more than 300 medical technology companies with Irish facilities, many other U.S. companies tap into the flow of educated workers, as well as the partnerships between research centers, universities and companies, and ongoing support—regulatory and financial—from the government.
Much like high-tech clusters developed in the United States around renowned universities, the equivalent in Ireland has provided many U.S. companies with ready access to leading-edge R&D in local universities and research institutions and provides a solid base for future growth and development. Ireland offers an R&D tax credit of 25%, which enables life sciences and tech companies undertaking qualifying R&D to claim a refund of €37.50 for every €100 worth of R&D expenditure.
Something particularly helpful is Ireland's collaborative environment in which companies, research centers and academia work together to address key challenges and opportunities. The next wave of innovation is all about collaboration—bringing diverse technology and research skills together. Increasingly, this revolves around data and how to combine it with analytics and artificial intelligence to deliver real-time, actionable insights. This paves the way for tomorrow's more-innovative healthcare solutions and also increases value-based outcomes—a key part of the healthcare industry's future.
Focusing on results and planning for the future are seen in Ireland's five clinical research facilities that support patient-focused programs. Frequently backed by arms of the government, this supportive environment has encouraged research in general, with 70% of medtech companies located in Ireland engaging in R&D activities. Global companies are working with Irish research centers in areas like medical devices, microelectronics, materials, data analytics, connectivity and smart manufacturing.
On the biopharma side, institutions such as Ireland's National Institute for Bioprocessing Research and Training (NIBRT) work closely with the healthcare industry there. A good example is the Single-Use Training Center of Excellence, which builds expertise in next-generation, single-use manufacturing technology for biotech and biopharma companies. NIBRT is a good example of mixing technology, training and research in one hub.
According to Killian O’Driscoll, director of projects at NIBRT, "The center trains over 4,000 people to make sure that we have the pool of talent that's required to manufacture advanced products." Besides significant medical research, NIBRT is focused on developing and delivering "bespoke" training programs in alliance with the center's industry partners.
"Half our trainees are involved in industry-focused training," explained O'Driscoll. "That can be anything from a one-day training program right up to a customized three-week training program, depending on what the client needs," he noted.
Since Ireland is a member of the EU, American companies with operations in Ireland can easily tap into the strong supply of technical, engineering, analytics and language skills available across Europe. Today, 17% of the Irish population is foreign-born. Meanwhile, the nation's business-friendly labor laws benefit both employer and employee, with no cap on the equivalent of H-1B visas.
The healthcare space in America and elsewhere will increasingly depend on data and the insights it generates, thus forward-looking life sciences companies are competing with non-healthcare companies for tech workers who will contribute to the unstoppable trend toward data-driven clinical support and wellness. Even back in 2012, a survey by Ponemon Institute found that 30% of the world's data storage resided in the healthcare industry and this vast supply of data only continues to grow at a rate of 48% annually according to International Data Corp.
Some U.S. companies in the healthcare information space have been looking to Ireland as a way to find qualified workers skilled in software, artificial intelligence, data analytics, cloud technologies and other areas involved in data-driven insights. Seeking such expertise is not surprising given the fact that the nation's robust technology space has attracted 16 of the top 20 global technology firms, with many of the largest American tech companies having sizeable Irish operations.
One of the healthcare industry's biggest challenges is the movement afoot to keep patient data private, which is a difficult and extensive task given the volume of such data being generated today. The EU instituted the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) last May, which governs the privacy, protection and reporting of personal data and applies to all companies processing and holding data on people living in the European Union, regardless of the company’s location. Ireland's data protection commissioner oversees GDPR compliance and much more. Working actively with major global companies, the commissioner is well regarded internationally and takes an engaged approach with clients.
In tandem, the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) is considered one of the leading regulatory agencies in Europe and works cooperatively with companies to help them follow regulations as well as assist in positively impacting standards and quality.
Either as a location for in-house innovation or as the choice for an overseas satellite location to service markets, Ireland’s ecosystem has much to offer U.S. life sciences firms and provides a glimpse into an ideal future of a new healthcare economy featuring life sciences and technology convergence. This is enabled by collaboration between top software, analytics/artificial intelligence, digital, pharmaceutical and medtech companies in creating patient-focused solutions that are connected, accessible and proactive in their approach. The result is more successful companies and better health outcomes.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog or by commenters are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of HIMSS or its affiliates.
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Originally published February 7, 2019