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Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda
Empowerment, innovation and efficiency for the health sector
eHealth Week Opening Plenary
Copenhagen, 7 May 2012
Ladies and gentlemen,
Today I want to remind you how new eHealth solutions can transform our world.
If we are prepared to look, not back towards the constraints of the past – but forwards to the opportunities of the future.
Life expectancy is climbing, and birth rates are going down: no wonder our society is ageing.Those longer lifespans are a triumph of medical science, and a testament to better living conditions. But they pose a challenge too: how do we keep those older people active, independent and fulfilled? How do we preserve affordable public healthcare? How do we cope with the emerging shortage of healthcare workers?
New information and communications technology can help. It offers us not just new gadgets, new efficiencies or new systems. But whole new paradigms by which to provide health services.
Imagine a world where we focus on people being able to function. Where being sick or frail doesn't automatically mean you have to go to a hospital or care home, and potentially lose social contact, dignity and independence.
A world where institutions are set up to deal not just with acute care. But where they play their part, amid a range of other service providers, for the tens of millions of Europeans with chronic conditions too.
Where patients don't have to be the passive recipients of healthcare – but where simple ICT tools can put health choices into their hands; a system at once more cost-effective and more empowering.
Already, today, we can see ordinary people wanting to put themselves in the driving seat in this way. In the UK, the NHS Choices website gets up to 11 million visitors a month; while some predict 13,000 health-related apps just for the iPhone, within the year.
And, already today, we are getting more and more evidence about options and benefits. Here in Denmark, local telemedicine ideas for the pregnant and chronically ill are being scaled up to national level. While at EU level, projects like the "Renewing Health" pilot will give us great information about what new technologies can do.
And what's more, we are now seeing massive innovation from the industry in providing new "ICT for health" tools. Suppliers see the huge opportunities of a growing market.
Indeed, the exhibition we have here shows just how many bright ideas are out there.
I'm particularly pleased to see so many small businesses involved in this innovation. You can be the motor of an agile European economy, so don't be afraid to take risks!
And I'm glad to be rewarding some of those SMEs later today.
The procurers of health services are beginning to recognise these new opportunities.
But the pace is still too slow. Over the 5 years to 2015, some project the European market for health ICTs in hospitals growing by just 10%. 10% over 5 years!
That's tiny when you consider the massive scale of the digital revolution elsewhere. As ICT progressively transforms other sectors, healthcare is still a decade behind.
Long the crown jewel of our social models, our healthcare systems risk becoming unfit for purpose in the digital age.
We must guarantee tomorrow's citizens high-quality healthcare, wherever they are in Europe, and at a cost society can afford.
We need all actors involved: health and finance ministries, patients, doctors, ICT experts, insurers, investors. To get everyone to wake up to this new paradigm.
Because ultimately the change can't happen without awareness, financing and the right incentives.
The epSOS project is a good example of cooperation in action: a European project we should all be proud of. By helping healthcare systems talk to each other and operate across borders, we can ensure patients get a better, more efficient service when they travel in the EU or need healthcare abroad. Including using a sound system for e-identification.
Our European Innovation Partnership is another good example of working together. It shows how, by getting all those different actors together, we can feed off each other's ideas, energy and inspiration.
Now we also have a new report of the Task Force on redesigning health in Europe for 2020. This is a major step forward.
The five recommendations of the Report indicate where we need to be heading. Like how to put patients in control of their personal data – while also using anonymised data to deliver better healthcare and foster life-saving innovation. Like the need to get all our systems connected and talking to each other. How to revolutionise health through transparency and accountability. And how to include everyone in this revolution, including those without Internet access.
But the report isn't just about new strategic ways of looking at healthcare challenges: it's also got practical suggestions for how to get there. From legal changes, to boosting health literacy, to breaking down silos and re-orienting EU funding.
And I'm grateful to President Ilves and all those who worked so hard on it.
Later this year, we'll be building on this work, and on our recent consultation, with our e-Health action plan. The action plan will set the tone for years to come: ensuring empowerment, efficiency and innovation in the health sector.
In particular, for those of you trying to launch and market new e-Health innovations, I want us to break down the barriers to success. Whether they're legal, technical, or organisational. And I want to build on our successful Lead Market Initiative through new policies on the demand side.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I know that new eHealth solutions can deliver: for an ageing population, for a tired economy, for strained public finances. And, with your help, we can deliver together.