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Brussels, 7 December 2012
eHealth Action Plan 2012-2020: Frequently Asked Questions
See also IP/12/1333
What is eHealth?
eHealth means using digital tools and services for health. eHealth covers the interaction between patients and health-service providers, institution-to-institution transmission of data, or peer-to-peer communication between patients and/or health professionals. Examples include health information networks, electronic health records, telemedicine services, wearable and portable personal health systems and many other information and communication technology (ICT)-based tools assisting disease prevention, diagnosis, treatment and follow up.
What are the benefits?
Using ICT based tools and systems gives patients more information, and more involvement in their healthcare, they improve access to health advice and treatment and can make national healthcare systems more efficient.
For example, the Danish Health Data Network provides fast and efficient communication between patients, general practitioners and social care professionals. These streamlined services for patients and healthcare workers have led to cumulative savings of $120 million a year. The Danish information system is cited by several studies to be the most efficient in the world, saving doctors on average 50 minutes per day usually spent on administrative work.
In Italy, overall savings from the introduction of ICTs in the Health Sector are estimated to be around 11.7% of national health expenditure (i.e. € 12.4 billion). Savings from digital prescriptions alone are estimated to be around € 2 billion.
A recent study across The Netherlands, UK and Germany showed that introducing home telemonitoring systems could improve survival rates by 15%, bring a 26% reduction in hospital days per patient and make 10% overall cost savings through nurse telephone support.
In Estonia, since 2009, citizens have online access to their medical data via an Electronic Health Record System (EHR). Citizens can access their own data and browse their health record, download documents, submit consents, update demographic data, get an overview of prescribed and dispensed medication, and review their health record use logs. The Estonian EHR system is already used by 47% of citizens and 95% of doctors while over 80% of prescriptions are electronic, meaning less errors and less paperwork.
How widely used is eHealth?
Hospitals, doctors and patients throughout the EU are using eHealth tools, with proven benefits. However use varies from region to region, and many people still lack the infrastructure, skills and confidence to use them.
A 2010 survey of public, private and university hospitals in Europe showed that 81% have one or more electronic patient records systems in place, but only 4% grant patients online access to their health information.
71% use online eBooking systems for patients' appointments with medical staff but only 8% offer patients the opportunity to book their own hospital appointment online.
43% of hospitals surveyed exchange radiology reports electronically. However, only 30% use ePrescription for medicines, 8% telemonitor patients at home, 5% have some form of electronic exchange of clinical care information with healthcare providers in other EU countries.
What did the 2004-2012 eHealth Action Plan achieve?
The Action Plan increased awareness among Member States of the importance of making eHealth an integral part of their health systems. Today, every EU Member State has an eHealth strategy in place and is working to achieve this. In addition, it:
Why is it time for a new one?
Market and behavioural trends have evolved since 2004. Now, more than ever, people are monitoring their health and wellbeing online or through devices such as smartphones. The Action Plan reflects this shift in behaviour and aims to enhance user confidence in these digital tools and apps, while ensuring that the market conditions encourage continued innovation.
Over the past decade, a strong base of evidence has emerged on the effectiveness of eHealth solutions and it is now time to focus on their widespread deployment. This requires the commitment of member states to implementing organisational changes which make patient-centric eHealth solutions an integral part of their healthcare systems.
At a time of economic crisis and austerity, there is more reason than ever to invest in long term cost-effective solutions which can also provide opportunities for market development in Europe, particularly among SMEs who are innovating in this growing area.
What is the role of the eHealth network?
The eHealth network was set up under Article 14 of Directive 2011/24 on the application of patients' rights in cross-border healthcare. The network brings together the national authorities responsible for eHealth from all the Member States on a voluntary basis to work on common orientations for eHealth. The aim is to ensure EU wide interoperability of electronic health systems and to ensure safety and continuity of cross-border healthcare.
The network is mandated to produce EU guidelines on eHealth, including a set of patients' data to be exchanged across borders, identification and authentication measures used in healthcare, and interoperability of e-prescriptions.
Given the nature of the network and its structure, the eHealth network plays a strategic role in the governance of interoperable cross-border eHealth services and infrastructure. The network will be consulted and fully involved in the activities foreseen in the eHealth Action Plan.
What will the 2012-2020 plan mean for healthcare workers and patients?
For healthcare workers, the plan will mean more opportunities to develop and enhance their digital skills in an area of increasing demand. This would increase their confidence in working with digital health tools, and lead to wider acceptance and use of eHealth technologies.
For doctors in particular, this means more meaningful time with their patients and less unnecessary appointments, for example, thanks to the use of ePrescription and telemonitoring.
For patients, this means spending less time, effort and money on unnecessary hospital or GP visits. For example, in the UK, currently 80% of visits to GPs are from patients requesting repeat prescriptions, but from April 2013 patients will start to use online prescribing and appointments. This is expected to decrease substantially unnecessary visits to GPs and will allow patients to take a more pro-active role in the management of their health.
What is in the eHealth Action Plan for small and medium-sized businesses?
The Action Plan supports entrepreneurs and SMEs who want to enter the eHealth market. An important way of doing this will be through "law incubators". These are pro-bono legal clinics where law students (under the supervision of their Professors) provide legal advice to ICT start-ups and entrepreneurs who are grappling with complex legal issues.
The EU's proposed research and innovation funding programme Horizon 2020 includes more than €8 billion in support of research and deployment in the area of health, demographic change and wellbeing. Over the period 2014-2020 this will mean opportunities for businesses, big and small, to get involved in areas as diverse as personalised medicine, advanced analytics and mobile technologies and apps.
Why provide legal guidance on cross border telemedicine?
There is no single piece of EU legislation specifically covering cross-border telemedicine. Due to its diverse nature and characteristics covering issues such as health data, reimbursement and licensing, cross-border telemedicine falls within the scope of several EU legal instruments. For this reason, the Commission staff working paper provides an overview of the relevant body of EU legislation that is applicable to cross-border telemedicine services provided in the EU and in particular:
eHealth Action Plan: chronological overview of the actions
The ISA programme helps European public administrations setting up efficient cross-border and cross-sector electronic information exchange and collaboration. The ISA Joinup platform allows professionals to share interoperability solutions for public administrations and to find semantic interoperability assets. https://joinup.ec.europa.eu/