Building future-proof healthcare systems: Insights from EUHA Secretary-General Johan Van Eldere

DATE February 8th, 2024

EUHA, as a unique alliance of leading university hospitals in Europe, advocates for the essential role of academic medicine within healthcare systems. With the appointment of a Secretary-General, EUHA aims to represent the concerns of academic medicine and strengthen its role as advisor to policymakers at the European level. 

Johan Van Eldere
Johan Van Eldere is an emeritus professor of microbiology at the Catholic University of Leuven and the University of Hasselt. He is currently the Secretary-General of EUHA.  

Johan Van Eldere did his medical studies and PhD research at the KU Leuven and afterwards was a research fellow at Oxford University. After his return to Leuven, he specialised in medical microbiology and hospital management. He was head of the Department of Laboratory Medicine and the Department of Pathology at the University Hospital Leuven. In 2014 he became medical director and member of the governing board of the University Hospital Leuven.

In 2018 he became a steering committee member for EUHA. From November 2023 onwards, he is Secretary-General of EUHA and president of the scientific advisory board of the Vall d’Hebron Institute of Research.  

Current healthcare systems face multiple challenges, such as the ageing population, increasing cost of treatments, growing care needs, workforce shortages, war and climate change. While healthcare remains a national competence, the cross-border and international nature of such challenges seem to be beyond the reach of national authorities and require an EU-wide approach and collaboration.  

To guarantee the creation of future-proof and resilient healthcare systems and to make sure that EU bodies prioritise this endeavour, EUHA finds it crucial to adequately represent the concerns of academic medicine at the European level. This representation is important, as university hospitals play an essential role in healthcare systems and society, taking care of the most complex patients, performing research, innovating treatments, and training the next generation of healthcare professionals.  

With the appointment of Johan Van Eldere as the EUHA Secretary-General, EUHA will strengthen its role as advisor to policymakers at the EU level and will continue to contribute to the the development of sustainable and resilient healthcare across Europe.

In an interesting conversation with Johan, he reflects on his role as the EUHA Secretary-General and his vision for the future of academic medicine.  

Building future-proof healthcare systems: Insights from EUHA Secretary-General Johan Van Eldere

What will be your primary areas of focus in the upcoming years within EUHA? 

“The most important focus for me for the coming years will be to make EUHA a well-known and influential stakeholder at the EU level. From my recent and still limited experience with the EU, it has become clear that hospitals, although a crucial element in all healthcare systems, are underrepresented at the EU level.” 

“Industry (including pharma, but also medical technology, biotechnology, and other providers of healthcare-related material) and patients (via different kinds of patient organisations) are well represented and succeed in getting their messages heard and interests considered in the directives and regulations that come out of the EU.” 

“Hospitals, probably because healthcare is still a national competence, appear to focus on the regional or national level. Nevertheless, it has become apparent that the EU, in a roundabout way, is having a growing impact on healthcare via, for example, regulations such as the GDPR (the General Data Protection Regulation), MDR (the Medical Device Regulation), or the IVDR (the In Vitro Diagnostics Regulation). As EUHA, our goal is not only to advocate for the interests of university hospitals but also to represent the broader concerns of the hospital and health sector.” 

“A second important aim will be to strengthen the collaboration between the EUHA hospitals. EUHA has chosen to be a ‘working’ alliance in which members learn from one another and collaborate to achieve a better quality of care for all patients.” 

“To unlock this, we will each need to invest more time and effort in different types of common projects. This, in turn, will need more financing, which we will try to obtain through different mechanisms, and more standardisation of data sources and protocols. The ultimate goal would be to set up a network of 10 of the largest university hospitals in Europe that can rapidly and efficiently produce detailed information on all kinds of activities and that can as easily set up cross-border investigations of any kind.” 

What will be your primary areas of focus in the upcoming years within EUHA?

“I cannot realise these goals without the feedback and help from individuals across all our hospitals. It will be an important task for me to try and convince people of the splendid opportunities that EUHA can offer.” 

“While we already have individuals from our hospitals participating in EUHA initiatives, we require additional contributors who can dedicate more time to these diverse projects.” 

“We can point to successful EUHA initiatives, such as the H2O project led by Vienna and the Join4ATMP project, which have secured grants to achieve their objectives and could make a substantial impact at the EU level. I hope that these examples will attract more people to start projects together with other EUHA members and realise the full potential of EUHA” 

Thank you very much, Johan! We look forward to continuing working with you on shaping European healthcare.

Editors: Fredric Möller Eklund & Martina Garriga Ferrer