European Union soon to have its Forum for Health Telematics Solutions

Erlangen 11 September 1999On September 10th and 11th 1999, a two-day kick-off workshop was organised in Germany by the members of the EHTEL consortium to discuss and validate the proposal for the creation of a neutral, permanent Forum to support the development of Health Telematics Solutions in Europe. EHTEL started in December 1998 as a feasibility study to assess the interest in generating such a forum to offer the three different categories of actors, namely administrations, industries and users, a platform to exchange ideas. In the first six months, the project staff met with over 100 actors of various backgrounds, including representatives of 16 different national health care authorities. The positive feedback from the discussions has encouraged the EHTEL partners to begin the long administrative process necessary to create a viable Forum which can be responsive to its members needs.


The general objective of the two-year EHTEL project, funded by the European Union, is to bring forward and propose the establishment of the requisites necessary to actually create a harmonised health telematics environment. This will have to facilitate a good and secure health care for the citizens in the member states at the lowest possible cost. To this aim, the Health Telematics Forum will offer a platform to representatives of health care authorities, health professionals, insurance companies and the health telematics industry, in order to identify the challenges but also the barriers to the development of the health telematics solutions in Europe and to co-ordinate trans-European views on this issue.

The EHTEL consortium has decided to put the focus on topical issues, such as identification, the design of medical files, the search for and utilisation of telematics solutions, and the cross-border exchange of medical data. In this regard, the platform allows members and groups of members to contact each other for setting up project proposals on a European or national level, for the development of new forms of partnerships between industry, administration, and other health care actors, or for testing new product ideas and services. This networking activity should be performed in the framework of initiatives, such as working groups, EHTEL Conferences, workshops, etc.

In the health telematics area, there is a lack of reliable market information. As a result, cost effectiveness studies with regard to the implementation of telematics solutions, and detailed market segments analyses will be carried out by member working groups. In the field of telemedicine in particular, the feasibility and cost effectiveness have been demonstrated in many countries but the development is slow due to the need for an organisational and cultural change but also to the fact that legal issues of liability and financial aspects up till now have not been considered as priority problems to be solved. So far, the opportunities presented by the explosion of new telecommunications and information technologies have had little impact on services provided to the 400 million citizens in the European Union.

The actors equally acknowledged that one of the key objectives is to achieve interoperability of Health Telematics Solutions. All three categories would like to review the way CEN TC 251 is operating, by taking greater account of the practicalities in day to day life. There exists a general consensus to recognise the need to define a policy in this domain, in particular the specific role of CEN TC 251 with regards of ISO TC 215. As for the role of standards, for the big companies, interoperability is the only issue. With exception of DICOM, they do not really bother too much about standards. On the contrary, small companies consider that standards are indispensable for them.

EHTEL is a not for profit association under the Belgian law, providing to its members services which will bring them benefits. The members of EHTEL's executive committee include David Preston from the British National Health Service, IMG Division; Jacky Vanhumbeeck from Siemens; Giancarlo Ruscitti from the Ospedale Bambino Gesù IRCCS; Giuseppe Chili from FINSIEL; Michel Lavictoire from Thomson-CSF; Mike O' Rourke from Mike O'Rourke Associates; Michel Carpentier, independent advisor; and project co-ordinator Hervé Doaré from Cap Gemini. If you like more details on the ETHEL project, you can visit the news site of the Ospedale Bambino Gesù.

Leslie Versweyveld

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