European Commission weighs up options on eHealth interoperability

Brussels 20 July 2007The lack of interoperability in systems and services, such as electronic health records, patient summaries, and emergency data sets, has been identified as a major obstacle to the widespread take-up of eHealth application in the European Union (EU). The European Commission has launched a public consultation on the issue with a view to adopting specific guidelines later in the year.

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The European Commission's notion of eHealth interoperability is two-fold. In addition to the technical definition of the term that relates to connecting systems and exchanging information, it also seeks to recognise the concept of connecting people, data, and diverse health systems, while taking into account the relevant social, political, regulatory, business, industry and organisational factors.

The EU's e-Health action plan (2004) defines the block's priorities on the field until 2010. One of them is the development of interoperable health care systems across the European Union. In June 2006, the Commission's ICT for Health Unit adopted a new strategy to promote the transformation of the European health care landscape, in line with the Commission's new policy framework i2010. The Unit is currently in the process of drafting guidelines for good practice on eHealth interoperability.

The Commission adopted on 16 July 2007 its Draft Recommendation on eHealth Interoperability and submitted it to informal public consultation. The final Recommendation is expected to be adopted later in 2007 and is set to contribute to the achievement of "a European health information space" by the end of the year 2015.

The draft outlines a set of recommended guidelines for good practice on eHealth interoperability and proposes a number of actions addressed to member states, industries and associations that work in the eHealth field. According to the Commission, the Recommendation has relevance also for the European Economic Area (EEA) countries.

The draft proposes the following actions:

  • at political and legal level, such as building a political platform to set up the necessary legal and regulatory environment for eHealth interoperability. This could involve more effective co-ordination and harmonisation of national legislations and would address a number of initiatives in relation to privacy and confidentiality issues;
  • on creating the organisational framework or process and interfaces, in and through which national eHealth infrastructures and services can interact;
  • on applications - to agree, for example, on standards for semantic interoperability;
  • on architectural and technical interoperability - to establish common communication platforms, which, for example, would address security-related issues and agree on a single certification and accreditation process, and;
  • on monitoring and evaluation.

According to the Commission, the ultimate goal of the Recommendation is "to contribute to enabling the provision of a means for authorised health care professionals to gain managed access to essential health information about patients, such as the appropriate parts of a patient's electronic health record, patient summary and emergency data, subject to the patient's consent, and with full regard for data protection and security requirements" across Europe.

Latest and next steps include:

  • 10 September 2007: The deadline for feedback on consultation.
  • Later 2007: The Commission publishes the final Recommendation, which will be followed up in the meetings of the i2010 sub-group on eHealth and its attached expert group on eHealth interoperability.
  • 2007: European pilot projects on emergency data set and e-prescription will be launched to test European co-operation regarding the application of improved patient summaries.

EU official documents on this matter include:


Leslie Versweyveld

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