Although a unified healthcare system across Europe is highly unlikely, leading industry observers meeting in Geneva have called for more collective focus on prevention initiatives.

This was one of the issues discussed at The Economist Healthcare in Europe 2012 summit in the Swiss city. Indeed, the matter of prevention formed the basis of an Economist Intelligence Unit report, launched at the conference and sponsored by Abbott Laboratories, which identifies measures that can be taken to prevent and manage chronic disease.

Richard Sullivan from King’s Health Partners Integrated Cancer Centre noted that the ageing population, "coupled to an uncertain economic future and an ever-expanding health technology horizon is placing huge strain on every nation-state". He added that “never has there been a more pressing time for creative solutions to delivering affordable excellence in keeping healthy and treating disease".

Nicola Bedlington, executive director of the European Patients Forum, said healthcare systems "must necessarily reform to face challenges including sustainability and demographic change”. However, she claimed that "all too often questions on health economics and efficacy take precedent".

Ms Bedlington added that "if we are to realise our vision of sustainable healthcare systems, in which there is greater personal accountability for health and disease prevention, then patients’ needs and equitable access should be at the heart of healthcare policy-making".

Patrick Flochel, EMEIA life sciences leader at Ernst and Young, said that the move towards patient self-management "and the implication for how the life sciences industry can cooperate with other partners in the future should be an important part of healthcare reforms". He argued that "a combination of medical and behavioural science must be embraced by the industry to ensure better health outcomes".

Summit discussions also highlighted the lessons Europe could learn from innovative healthcare provision in countries such as India where public health issues are tackled with limited resources.