Survey takes pulse of eHealth in Europe and prescribes wider ICT use among doctors

Brussels 25 April 2008The European Commission has published a pan-European survey on electronic services in health care - eHealth - that shows 87 percent of European doctors - General Practitioners - use a computer, 48 percent with a broadband connection. European doctors increasingly store and send patients' data such as lab reports electronically. In using such eHealth applications, doctors and medical services have already improved health care in Europe through, for example, more efficient administration and shorter waiting times for patients. The report also highlights where doctors could make better use of ICT to offer services such as telemonitoring, electronic prescriptions and cross border medical services.

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eHealth applications have a growing role in the doctor's practices, according to the "Benchmarking ICT use among General Practitioners in Europe" survey presented by the European Commission. However, there remain significant differences in their availability and use across Europe. About 70 percent of European doctors use the Internet and 66 percent use computers for consultations. Furthermore, there are wide differences across countries: Denmark has the highest broadband penetration among General Practitioners (91 percent), Romania the lowest (about 5 percent).

Administrative patient data is electronically stored in 80 percent of general practices: 92 percent of these also electronically store medical data on diagnoses and medication; 35 percent electronically store radiological images. European doctors often transfer data electronically with laboratories (40 percent), but less to other health centres (10 percent).

The survey shows that the countries most advanced in ICT access and connectivity are more likely to use them for professional purposes. For example, Denmark, where high-speed internet is most widely available in Europe, sees extensive use of e-mail communication between doctors and patients in about 60 percent of practices. The European Union average is only 4 percent.

The survey also highlights areas for improvement and further deployment, such as electronic prescriptions - e-Prescribing, which is practised by only 6 percent of European Union General Practitioners. This is widely used in only three Member States: Denmark (97 percent), The Netherlands (71 percent) and Sweden (81 percent).

Telemonitoring, which allows doctors to monitor a patient's illness or manage chronic diseases remotely, is only used in Sweden, where 9 percent of doctors provide telemonitoring services, The Netherlands and Iceland - both about 3 percent. The European Commission plans to report later this year on the potential and development of telemedicine.

Exchange of patient data across borders is also rare, done by only 1 percent of the European Union's General Practitioners, and with the highest usage rate in The Netherlands - at 5 percent. This year the European Commission plans to make recommendations on cross-border interoperability of electronic health record systems and will launch, with several countries, a project on cross-border eHealth services for patients traveling within the European Union.

A majority of European doctors agree that ICT improves the quality of health care services that they provide. Doctors not using ICT cite a lack of training and technical support as major barriers. To spread eHealth, they ask for more ICT in medical education, more training and better electronic networking among health care practitioners wanting to share clinical information.

In 2004, the European Commission adopted an Action Plan to develop the use of ICT in the health sector. As a result, all Member States put in place strategies to accelerate eHealth deployment. eHealth is part of the Lead Market initiative for innovation launched by the European Commission in 2008.

The results of this survey, which involved almost 7000 General Practitioners in the third quarter of 2007, are related to these policy initiatives. The results will be presented in the forthcoming European eHealth Conference in Slovenia on May 6-7, 2008.


Leslie Versweyveld

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