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IP/04/580

Brussels, 3 May 2004

e-Health: better health and healthcare through the use of information and communications technologies

An action plan just adopted by the European Commission shows how information and communication technologies can be used to deliver better quality health care Europe-wide. The "e-Health action plan" covers everything from electronic prescriptions and computerised health records to using new systems and services to cut waiting times and reduce errors. The proposals will contribute to better care at the same or lower cost. The action plan sets out the objective of a "European e-Health Area" and identifies practical steps to get there through work on electronic health records, patient identifiers and health cards, and the faster rollout of high speed Internet access for health systems to allow the full potential of eHealth to be delivered. To add momentum Member States should develop national and regional e-Health strategies and work needs to progress to allow measurement of the impact of eHealth technologies on the quality and efficiency of services, as well as overall productivity. By the end of the decade, e-Health will become commonplace for health professionals, patients and citizens. The action plan is the third element of the Commission's recent activities in the health area (IP/04/508). The two other activities address patient mobility and the benchmarking of national reforms in health care, long-term care and social protection.

Enterprise and Information Society Commissioner Erkki Liikanen said: "The challenges facing health care in Europe today require a bold response. The greater use of technologies and services - such as the Internet - as a partner in improving health care must be encouraged. This plan helps us to do this because new technologies and services make access faster and easier, reduce errors, and improve the effectiveness of health care systems. This area that covers both health care and e-Health technologies is where Europe and European business is strong, and these strengths must be further supported."

Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner David Byrne added: "Patients will benefit from the use of information and communication technologies in healthcare. With the adoption of the e-Health action plan yet another element is in place to address the many issues that confront health services throughout the EU. This Thursday I will meet with Health Ministers of the Member States at the e-Health Ministerial conference in Cork where we will discuss ways to make the most of technology to improve the quality, availability and effectiveness of care in Europe."

Today at least four out of five European doctors have an Internet connection, and a quarter of Europeans use the Internet to get information about illnesses and health matters. But e-Health tools or solutions include products, systems and services that go beyond simply Internet-based applications.

Patients need to contact their family doctors, doctors need to talk to hospitals, and hospitals need to interact with clinics and research centres, all with the aim of providing better care for patients and effective solutions for health care systems.

There are plenty of examples of e-Health in action in the Member States. Health information networks, such as Denmark's medcom, are supporting the work of hospitals, pharmacies, on-call doctors, general practitioners, laboratories, and local authorities (http://www.medcom.dk/). It can deliver substantial savings in hospital costs, speed up treatment and diagnosis and help to reduce the risk of medical errors. Six million people have accessed the UK's NHS Direct Online in two years to get health-related information. Europe is also at the forefront of the use of electronic health records in primary care and deployment of health (smart) cards, including the recent introduction of an European Health Card to make it easier to obtain treatment in other EU Member States. Slovenia is a pace setter among the new Member States in this area http://www.zzzs.si/kzz/ang/hic_indx.htm.

European Community research funding has supported e-Health to the tune of €500 million since the early 1990s, with total investment due to co-financing being around twice that amount. Many of today's success stories have emerged from that research. All this has helped to create a new e-Health industry with a turnover of €11 billion. By 2010, estimates suggest that up to 5% of health budgets will be invested in eHealth systems and services.

Now, new and concrete actions will be taken forward as part of the action plan:

  • By 2005 Member State should develop their own roadmaps for e-Health, and an EU public health portal should be up and running to provide a one-stop shop access to health information.

  • By 2006 work should be well advanced on key issues such as developing a common approach to data allowing patients to be identified and putting standards in place which mean that all the different parts of healthcare networks can talk to each other and read and exchange patient information.

  • By 2008 health information networks should be commonplace, delivering services over fixed and wireless broadband networks and making the most of networks within so called "Grids" to boost computing power and the interaction between different systems.

This action plan is only part of the EU's response to the broad challenges that health services across the EU are facing. Two further examples announced earlier in April (IP/04/508) included action on patient mobility and the benchmarking of national reforms of health care systems. The Action Plan comes during the week when Ministers and the Commission will meet in Cork at the eHealth Ministerial Conference to discuss a range of eHealth issues and showcase best practice and practical examples of eHealth solutions. It will also be the occasion to announce the 2004 eHealth awards which go to the best projects underway in this area.

For further information on eHealth see:

http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/qualif/health/index_en.htm

For further information on the eHealth Ministerial Conference see:

http://www.ehealthconference2004.ie


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