At the recent eHealth conference in Tromsø, Norway, European Commissioners called on governments and the private sector to make better use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in Europe's health care systems. They showcased several projects which demonstrate European Union research funding in action.
The Commission underlined how ICT can improve health care, reduce the scope for medical errors and save European lives. "The European approach to eHealth should be about spending euros on patients, not on paperwork", commented Viviane Reding, European Commissioner for Information Society and Media, at the conference.
For example, electronic medical records can help doctors diagnose illness and prescribe treatments more accurately, thus reducing medical errors, she added. "Electronic patient referrals in Denmark are saving 1 million euro a year, and this could rise to 3,5 million euro, if all referrals were sent electronically", the Commissioner pointed out.
eHealth can also empower European patients who increasingly want to play an active role in decisions relating to their health. Better access to high-quality health information is key to this. As part of its current eHealth action plan, the Commission plans to launch a Health Portal later this year - what it calls a one-stop-shop for health information produced by the European Union and a gateway to Web sites hosted by national and regional health authorities and civil society groups in the health field.
The event also showcased eHealth success stories from across Europe, including a number of projects promoting eHealth applications co-financed by the European Union's Public Health Programme and Information Society Technologies research, through its Framework Programmes for research.
Whether it is a state-of-the-art Web portal, software applications, IT hardware, intelligent clothing, or new IT-based medical techniques, the European Union has funded a host of successful research projects making a huge difference on the ground. One example is the WRAPIN Web project offering, among other things, trusted on-line medical advice for patients, and an index of medical terms and technologies. The two-year project received close to half a million euros from the Commission.
Another project, called WEALTHY, created a new woven yarn with a range of electrophysical properties for producing smart clothing - garments with, for example, fibre sensors, portable devices for collecting and processing health data, and so on. This technology has been used to monitor patient health, for example, during rehabilitation, as well as for people working in extreme conditions, such as high or low temperatures or life-threatening situations. The recently concluded project received almost 1,8 million euro in European Union funding.
The European Union research project AMIT delivered prototypes of an electron spin resonance system which considerably improves magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) for keyhole surgery. Surgeons use keyhole techniques to produce pictures - using tiny cameras attached to an endoscope probe - which help them navigate around the maze of internal structures in the body to more accurately carry out the operation. This low-invasive technique can mean shorter stays in hospital and quicker recovery times for patients.
AMIT's work has already generated a small spin-off company, Neagen Oy, set up in Finland to market the technology. The project ran between 2000 and 2002 and received over 1 million euro from the European Union.