Impressions from the Fourth World of Health IT and Eighth Ministerial eHealth Conferences

Barcelona 18 March 2010At the eighth Ministerial eHealth Conference in Barcelona, European Union ministers have outlined a joint vision and policy priorities on how to make eHealth more accessible, interactive and customised to patients. The Declaration outlines a vision and identifies key objectives to be achieved in the next ten years. The Declaration calls for policy co-ordination amongst the various areas where eHealth can have an impact on citizens' health in order to enhance benefits for patients, health care systems and society. It recognises the need for stronger synergies with policy areas like competitiveness, research and regional development both at European and national levels.

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The importance of eHealth should be underlined in the framework of the future European Union 2020 Strategy and the European Digital Agenda. In this context Member States look forward to the World Conference on ICT.

ICT tools for Health should be used to scale up benefits to patients, health care systems and society. Large scale actions at European level to link research, innovation and deployment are therefore welcomed. The Commission should report on progress in this area. The signatories also underline the importance of involving all stakeholders in the strategic planning, validation and implementation of eHealth.

For two decades, the European Commission has been supporting European Union research through the funding of more than 450 projects for a total of 1 billion euro, enabling Europe to take the leadership in research and innovation in the field. Since 2007 the European Commission has been supporting eHealth deployment via the Competitiveness and Innovation Programme and over the last years through the Public Health Programme.

Eric Maurincomme, speaking in his role as Chairman of COCIR Healthcare IT Committee, the voice of the European Radiological, Electromedical and Healthcare IT Industry, has stated during his participation at the eHealth week in Barcelona that, in this industry, true innovation always comes from small and medium enterprises, as a result of researchers' work in tackling a specific problem posed to their organisation. The challenge for policy makers and industry leaders is to ensure that these SME innovations are brought to a higher level. "This is the reason why interoperability and industry standards are so important in eHealth", according to Mr. Maurincomme.

The topic of eHealth's impact on the economy was addressed at the World of Health IT (WoHIT) in a session moderated by Flora Giorgio, Project and Policy Officer, DG INFSO, European Commission. She emphasized that this is a lead sector with a high potential for growth in Europe. She also pointed out that the value of eHealth - and health care in general - has to be approached from a broader perspective than that of costs and revenue. Panelists Lorenzo Valeri (Rand Europe), Greta Nasi (Boccono University, Milano), and Eric Maurincomme all agreed on the fact, that the benefits of eHealth go beyond financial figures and have to be assessed in terms of efficiency, safety and better patient care. At the end, this has a positive economic impact, as healthier societies are more productive.

According to a study commissioned by the European Union whose results will be made public in April 2010, eHealth market in Europe can be currently quantified in 15 billion euro. On the changes that are brought with the implementation of eHalth solutions, Eric Maurincomme has commented that while some jobs become redundant, there are new opportunities for skilled professionals. "Project managers, with a health care and IT background, are needed in all hospitals to run their eHealth systems."

Speaking at Europe's eHealth Week 2010 in Barcelona, Neil Bacon, the founder of one of the largest on-line platforms where patients can share hospital and practitioner information and recommendations, urged a packed plenary room to take advantage of the huge amount of patient experience information available. Neil Bacon challenged the audience by asking: "Why is there so much information out there on hotels and not hospitals?" He stated that in both places you need to check in and out, and if levels of clinical outcome and customer service standards are high, then it is proven that both patients and hospital staff will benefit.

Neil Bacon added: "Patients' experience of care and of hospital service is one of the most important sources of information. If you fall ill, be it cancer or if you need a dermatologist, the majority of people will ask family and friends for recommendations." Neil Bacon ended his keynote by stating that the shared purpose for everyone delivering health care is to ensure that nobody is left behind and that citizens' transparent feed-back and Health 2.0 can help creating a future driven by patients' needs, wishes and expectations.

Deputy Director-General DG Information Society and Media at the European Commission Zoran Stancic addressed in his keynote speech on the European Union eHealth Agenda the European Commission's activities and the vision behind its strategy in this field. He highlighted the importance of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) to face today's health challenges - e.g. demographics and health system sustainability, and their role as tools to help people saving people, provided they are correctly applied.

Zoran Stancic underlined that eHealth is a key policy priority for the Digital Agenda currently under preparation by the European Commission and stressed the Commission's commitment in supporting interdisciplinary research and eHealth deployment over the past 20 years, with more than 400 projects funded and a contribution of over 1 billion euro.

He went through the key steps undertaken by the Commission to first supporting connectivity and effective information sharing among health institutions, and then to connecting citizens and engaging patients in the process of care. The Commission has been doing so through a number of policy and research initiatives, including funding standardized telemedicine services and actions on cross-border eHealth services, such as epSOS and Calliope, involving several Member States, issuing policy guidelines - e.g. the eHealth Action Plan, the Communication on Telemedicine; tackling market issues and supporting Member States co-operation through the Lead Market and the eHealth Governance initiatives; promoting projects such as the TEN-HMS on home telemonitoring of heart failure, thanks to which patients showed improvements in survival rates by 15 percent compared to traditional care; addressing legal issues related to liability, licensing of professionals and privacy protection.

More recently, the Commission has taken further steps by extending the scope of eHealth beyond its original focus on health care and by engaging in the other two areas linked to our health status: our genetic predispositions and exogenous determinants such as nutrition, lifestyle and environment.

Zoran Stancic also stressed the Commission's efforts to make the eHealth market - which is the fastest growing pillar of the health care industry more innovation friendly, transparent and defragmented for the benefits of business, and particularly for the thousands of small and medium size enterprises waiting for the economic and societal returns of their innovative ideas. In this respect, the industry and trade associations are invited to closely co-operate with the Commission to develop this domain under the umbrella of the Lead Market Initiative.

Zoran Stancic highlighted the need for Europe and its Member States to work together and take the next step to consolidate a longterm vision which goes beyond research projects and pilots, and which is based on political commitment, user driven deployment and a clearer legal framework. He stressed how current policy developments - such as the eHealth Conference Declaration and the eHealth Governance Initiative - can provide the momentum to progress faster towards shared goals for the benefits of all.

"I like the slogan: Just do it!" was the first thing that Ilias Iakovidis, Acting Head of Unit, ICT for Health, European Commission, said at his keynote speech at eHealth week 2010 in Barcelona on EU-US eHealth co-operation. "If the United States and the European Union collaborate on eHealth matters, then the whole world will follow."

Ilias Iakovidis is one of the key initiators in putting eHealth as a priority topic on the European Commission's agenda. For the past eight years, the ICT for Health Unit in the European Commission has been one of the champions in organizing EU Ministerial High Level Conference on eHealth. This year's edition is held alongside the World of Health IT Conference & Exhibition (WoHIT). This year, he proudly confirmed that this event was now officially the largest eHealth conference in Europe.

One of the Commission's top priorities is creating interoperability of health care systems between the 27 European Union Member States. Ilias Iakovidis pointed out that interoperability not only leads to better quality, but also to much safer health care systems. "The European Commission is here to help create a platform where Member States and all stakeholders can co-operate."

Another speaker in the session was Charles Friedman, Deputy National Co-ordinator, Office of the National Co-ordinator for Health Information Technology, United States. He spoke about how the Obama administration are now investing heavily in eHealth and how the United States can look at Europe for success stories in this field.

It was clear that all acotrs on the stage want to achieve one simple goal: much better health care for all, not only in the European Union and the United States, but on a global level.

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Source: World of Health IT

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