The situation got better with the launch of the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), entitling European citizens to equal access to health care in another Member State if needed. But EHIC's arrival in 2004 has proven to be no silver bullet. Awareness of its benefits is still quite low among Europeans. Meanwhile, support systems - administrative and technological - have struggled to keep pace with growing leisure travel and labour mobility.
But European initiatives are keen to do something about that. Two projects developing IT-based services for cross-border health care provision, TEN4Health and NetC@rds eEHIC ID, have agreed on common European messaging standards that link hospitals and other health care providers with health insurance organisations, and with national health care IT infrastructure.
The common web services agreed by the European Union-funded projects are specified in WSDL, a web-services description language, and messaging is communicated through XML, a software mark-up language for documents containing structured information, like health care records.
The agreement is considered a major step towards full interoperability of web services throughout the European health care sector. "With this agreement, we are paving the way for a European standard supporting the necessary communication and data exchange processes for cross-border health care in Europe", commented a European Union official close to the projects.
It means if an Austrian or German breaks his leg on a jet ski in Italy or The Netherlands, he can get equivalent health care to what he might expect in his home country. And now the health care provider can reliably and quickly determine that the patient has valid health insurance, making reimbursements faster and less painful.
TEN4Health and NetC@rds are both co-funded by the European Union's eTEN programme for market validation and initial deployment respectively. More information is available at the TEN4Health and NetC@rds project websites. This article has been reprinted from the ICT Results website.