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Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda
Shaping a healthier, stronger future
Athens, 12 May 2014
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It is a great pleasure to be here at the high level eHealth Forum.
As many of you recall, the first of these eHealth conferences was in 2003: also under the Greek presidency. So today is a historic moment. It's like the Olympics: bringing the eHealth torch back to the presidency that first lit it.
A lot has changed over the last decade. Experts and professionals have run a relay, taking eHealth racing from one country to another. So eHealth has become a priority of national and regional healthcare, passing from one health organisation to another, with digital innovations and institutions lighting and warming the lives of many millions.
Today the Greek presidency, Commissioner Borg and I launch a new and even more exciting event. Passing on this torch from the hands of our experts and professionals to the people themselves. I want you all to join forces to spread this light to all our citizens and ensure all of them can benefit from and be empowered by eHealth. Because for most citizens - few things matter as much as staying healthy.
So let us work together to capture the massive opportunities of new technologies – for our people to stay active and independent, empowered and in control. In turn helping our healthcare systems and our economy.
You are all aware of the facts: they are inevitable.
People are getting older and more demanding. But getting older shouldn't mean losing your dignity and independence. If facing a possible health problem, people expect answers about what they themselves can do about it. In a digital age, it should not be impossible to meet that expectation.
Meanwhile, professionals want to spend more time on care and less on paperwork. They want quick access to vital information, and to provide the best care and advice to those in need and be recognised and rewarded as professionals.
And of course everyone wants our economy to improve. For that, we must invest in the sectors that promise vibrant innovation, sectors that create new jobs, sectors that support our workforce to stay happy and healthy for longer.
Imagine if there were new tools that could fix the well-known problems faced by health systems. Could make it easier to prevent disease and promote healthy and independent living.
We'd be crazy to turn our backs on them. We'd be crazy not to do everything we could to promote them, invest in them, learn about them.
Well – we now do have those tools.
For example: in Italy, eHealth tools have saved one euro in every 9 spent on healthcare.
In Estonia citizens can go online to review their own records, consent to procedures, check up on prescriptions. Used by almost half of citizens, 80% of prescriptions, 95% of doctors, and 100% safely and securely.
Here in Greece, average costs fell by 30% since e-Prescriptions were introduced– an innovation which also fights fraud and cuts over-prescribing.
And across Europe we have innovative tools and systems to monitor and control ill health. There's two from Greece on display right here. Like the Sociable tool to support those with dementia or cognitive impairment. Like the Usefil app – a "smart mirror" to help elderly people avoid a dangerous, debilitating fall.
These are great examples of what we can do for the ageing, the ill, the infirm: and great examples of the vibrant innovations we find in Greece and across Europe.
eHealth and the silver economy can deliver the expectations of citizens, patients, taxpayers, providers and professionals. They are not exactly new kids on the healthcare block. But they drive innovation, just as ICT drives innovation across the whole economy. And you are all a part of that exciting world – that's a great privilege and opportunity.
As I said: we'd be crazy to turn our backs on that.
Well: I don't plan to be crazy.
That's why investing in healthier, more independent living has been such a priority during my term as Digital Agenda Commissioner.
Over 25 years ago, the European Commission began supporting research and innovation in eHealth. We were one of the first international institutions to do so. I am proud to see that investment paying off.
We are looking to the future opportunities, too. Today, most of us have mobile tools that put your healthcare into your hands, and into your front pocket. From apps that check your heart or blood sugar – to bracelets that monitor your exercise. These are simple, usable ways to get healthy – and stay healthy. And now we are consulting on this amazing emergent trend – with a green paper on mHealth.
Because to get the most benefits from mHealth we need few things.
First, we need digital capital: skills and networks.
Tomorrow's hospitals, homes and surgeries will need people with the right skills. At the same time, we have almost one million ICT jobs without the right people to fill them – and a vibrant app economy that could employ almost 5 million within a few years.
Boosting Europe's digital skills is a big challenge and a big opportunity – so I'm delighted the Greek government is stepping up to the plate with its new National Coalition for digital jobs.
We also need seamless, fast broadband networks. With the rules for a connected continent, including enough spectrum to support all those mobile services. So you don't pay roaming charges to stay healthy abroad. With the specialised services or quality connections that could alone support healthcare innovations or virtual surgery.
Plus of course we need the right framework for cloud computing and the internet of things.
Second, we need the right investment, and new ways of deploying innovation at large scale.
That is what we are stepping up with Horizon 2020, and with our European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing.
Over the next 6 years, through Horizon 2020, the EU has secured over one billion euros to support Research and innovation in eHealth and ICT for ageing. I urge you to tap into that opportunity. But, more than that: I urge you to combine and bridge it with EU structural funds, national innovation funds, and venture capital.
Third, it needs us to work together.
With systems that talk to each other. A great move to make – not just meaning less hassle for travelling patients – but also a telemedicine market that can take off and innovate across borders, with pan-European economies of scale.
But working together isn't just about technical standards – it's about sharing our experience and success, learning from them, adapting them. I know that regions play a really important role here – and I know many of them are helping us and helping each other by sharing their successes.
And finally - it needs us to safeguard issues like privacy. To show the citizen that going online is not just convenient, but trustworthy. That their data won't be mismanaged or misused, sold or stolen. With resilient and secure networks and systems I think we can build that trust.
For business this means new opportunities to offer better lives. With Europe's bright army of entrepreneurs able to innovate and serve.
For healthcare systems, it means spending less on bureaucracy and duplication – leaving time and resources for the personal care that counts.
But for people and patients - it means a transformation.
It's about giving every citizen trustworthy, convenient services.
It means you don't have to take a day off to sit in a waiting room, when you could have the information you need at your fingertips, what you want when you want it.
It's about giving them good connections for seamless, instant access to medical advice and care, anywhere.
It means, if you happen to fall ill abroad, you have less hassle, safer treatment, continuous care.
It means no more pointless duplicate tests when you move or change doctor.
And as you grow old, it means the whole world of difference – able to stay at home, active, independent, close to friends and family: without suffering the trauma and disruption of moving into care.
That is what the EU's eHealth Action Plan has been delivering over recent years. And our joint programme on active assisted living. That is what our European Innovation Partnership is all about too.
And remember – 2 million citizens are benefiting from that Partnership already. That's millions of people less likely to suffer a life-diminishing fall, who can get their prescription right, can live more actively and independently. On behalf of those millions of people, I would like to thank each and every one of the thousands of partners involved.
But most of all it needs a shift in mindset. Having new tools, devices and apps is one thing. Integrating them across the health system, large-scale, is another. It takes effort and dedication – and the will to change. The effort to show the many dedicated doctors, carers and patients out there that this delivers what they want – better care, less admin.
In so many areas, we are seeing technology's transforming potential. But we aren't always ready to embrace it. From having to pay roaming charges to how we watch TV – we see providers who would rather cling to the past than capture the opportunities of the future. Now doctors and GPs, too, must feel the potential and it will make their job more interesting and challenging. Like roaming is a thing of the past, so is the waiting room. Every medical professional needs to challenge and be challenged – to find a new mindset and a new, better way to provide care.
Now – following our recommendation – every EU country has its own national eHealth strategy. But they need to be ambitious and they need to be implemented. I count on your support to ensure that.
As I mentioned at the start, I would like this event to strengthen our focus on the people who really matter – patients and citizens. So let me propose here, today, a small step; a quest for your community.
How about giving people a Personal Health Navigator? A user-friendly tool, helping people find and interact with their nearest doctor, pharmacy or hospital. A tool to give them accessible and trustworthy health information wherever they are. A tool that offers quick and secure access to their personal data, if they need it. A tool that can detect and support the treatment of a disease – but also encourage healthy habits, and prevent conditions before they occur.
That is just one example of a solution to support healthy living. Also allowing people to share their data when they need to, including while travelling – without compromising on security and privacy.
To conclude: e-Health provides us with many opportunities for patients, doctors and the healthcare system in general. Last, but not least it is a huge opportunity for innovation, economy and jobs. Let us not forget: It's not just Europe getting older – the whole world is too. For our brightest companies and most creative innovators, this is a great chance. E-Health is the export opportunity number one. In a great, growing global market.
For all those leaving this conference – our shared ambition should be that we can ensure every European citizen to be digital, connected and healthy. And that Europe will take this opportunity and gain the lead in this growing and highly innovative market.