Countries in the Mediterranean region cherish the joint ambition to integrate the Internet and the World Wide Web in the development of a Euro-Mediterranean Information Society, covering areas such as culture and tourism; electronic commerce; education; and telemedical care. From March 4th to 7th, more than 350 delegates from both the European Union and the Mediterranean region gathered in Cyprus during the EuroMed Net'98 Conference, to discuss their general strategy and to propose or present several practical pilot projects in all of these fields. The initiatives share the common concern of awareness, training and sustainability and propagate the recognition of cultural diversity while uniting individual strengths and investing in potential synergies. Telemedicine is one of the major elements to be considered for the deployment of a fruitful Euro-Mediterranean co-operation between industry, research communities and governments, to the general benefit of the population in this region.
The primary challenge of the Euro-Mediterranean collaboration forms the building of a Trans-Mediterranean Research Network, interconnected with the existing Trans-European one, in order to enable the research and development of different applications and services in the domains of public interest, such as health care. Therefore, cross connections between regional networks have to be established, offering each country the necessary high-speed connectivity possibilities. The global network implementation will be performed gradually, in predetermined stages, allowing new members to join the programme whenever they are ready for electronic connection upgrading in order to deliver the subsequent services. The creation of high quality research activity, resulting in nourishing economic transactions, will stop the current brain drainage in the Mediterranean region.
The EuroMed Net'98 Conference session on health telematics in general and telemedicine in particular, highlighted six priority themes for future enterprises in the Euro-Mediterranean area. As already has been pointed out, in certain countries the existing telecom infrastructure is insufficiently developed to support telemedical and other services. An initial project encompasses the convergence of efforts between different service areas to improve cost-effectiveness and generate new opportunities. At present, satellite technologies can compensate for lacking infrastructure and a new generation of satellite implementations will soon be integrated. However, the creation of a Health care Information Infrastructure is envisaged, which should be based on a common architecture as well as on international standards.
A second project focuses on preventive medicine as a cost-effective approach. Indeed, the optimisation of the general health situation of the populations implies an automatic return on investment. These initial costs might even be spread over a large number of actors, not necessarily involved in the health sector like, for instance, the tourism sector. The stimulation to a growing awareness of the potential, that lies hidden in an information society, is dealt with in a third project. Developing countries need to be convinced of the inherent benefits of telemedicine, through the training of their health care professionals in the use of state-of-the-art technologies. Fourth, scientific awareness among the physicians can equally be increased if they are offered a chance to gain access to affordable and practical recommendations for immediate implementation in their practice. Medical networking towards a scientific research level contributes to an enhanced quality of care.
Effectiveness of health information systems through standardisation forms the task which is classed under the fifth project. For some time past, the EC is working on the harmonisation and standardisation of all commercial information products for the health care sector. In fact, general standards are needed to facilitate the process of decision making with relation to the management of resources, programming and policy. Resource allocation indeed might be optimised if projects like this one, succeed in a systematic and cost-effective organisation of data collection and processing for the sake of an objective way of health monitoring at the level of public institutions.
The last project involves the development of pilot and extensive virtual centres in various medical disciplines in order to improve the medical skills and means in the Mediterranean countries. This network of centres of excellence will function as the living heart of health infrastructure improvement at both national and regional levels. Supportive collaboration between the different centres, offering an open door to the local population in each country, will reduce costs. Among a wide range of subjects regarding the multi-faceted set up of an Information Society, the conference thus provided a most interesting forum for health care optimisation proposals in the Euro-Mediterranean area. We like to thank Professor George Angelos Papadopoulos for the kind supply of information on the results of EuroMed Net'98.