HealthGrid should stop health care from looking like tenth century travelling

Lyon 16 January 2003Since thirteen years, Dr. Ilias Iakovidis is paving the way towards a person-centred type of health care within the European Commission's Directorate General for the Information Society - eHealth unit. At the recent First European HealthGrid Conference in Lyon, he stressed that in the new development cycle of the upcoming Sixth Framework Programme, health care projects have to focus on practical implementation rather than on creating computer-savvy applications such as it occurred in the previous Framework Programmes. In this regard, the HealthGrid concept constitutes a tool for synergy in a collaborative environment by building on previous efforts.

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Indeed, there is no break with former health care initiatives which have been supported by the European Commission during the past 5 years because the vision of continuity for shared care is still there, but new approaches, new instruments, new tools will have to be envisioned. The HealthGrid will serve as a leverage for the introduction of timely and secure access to distributed patient data, middleware, and interoperability of databases with heterogeneous content for e-research purposes. The key to accomplish this vision lies in the integration of projects to generate clusters and in the integration of people which will lead to networks of excellence, as the speaker noted.

A first step was taken on December 14, 2001 when a conference was organised in Brussels by the European Commission in collaboration with the Belgian Presidency under the specific theme: "Synergy between Research in Medical Informatics, Bio-Informatics and Neuro-Informatics". The aim was to bring together the key players in these 3 fields for an initial round of discussion and information exchange. One of the results of the December conference and subsequent workshops was the idea that one of the tools which could actually help create this synergy is Grid technology, as Dr. Iakovidis explained.

Within the Sixth Framework Programme, a first call for project proposals related to health care will be launched in April 2003 addressing the following three domains:

  1. Hardware, sensors and wearable systems, such as for instance intelligent clothing.
  2. Health knowledge infrastructure and middleware with a focus on intelligence and knowledge of architectures. There is no longer any interest in regional networking projects but in iniatives applying to Grid technology instead.
  3. Interaction between bio-informatics, neuro-informatics and medical informatics. Here, the networking of specialised people comes to the fore.

The HealthGrid concept has little to do with mere number crunching but all the more with the creation of roadmaps for health care to bring physicians, nurses, patients, and citizens exactly where they want to be. In the middle ages, the infrastructure for travellers was non-existent: no roads, no maps, no signs. Reaching your goal much depended on the goodwill of guides and a regular occurrence of resorts where the horses could be changed.

Today in health care, the situation with the tenth century traveller is very much alike, as Dr. Iakovidis pointed out to the audience. There exists no intelligent environment for the doctor, nor for the patient. There are no roadmaps for health care providers nor for citizens. We travel blind. The concept of the HealthGrid as an intelligent and collaborative environment has to change all that in building a health care knowledge infostructure to generate continuity, as the speaker concluded.


Leslie Versweyveld

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