Health care technology in European research programmes: from Fourth to Fifth Framework

Amsterdam 23 April 1998 As a representative of the European Commission (EC), Dr. Massimo Luciolli highlighted the projects related to health care technology in the Fourth Framework Programme and tried to indicate the future direction of the telemedical share within the Fifth Framework Programme in his ITIS'98 lecture. The upcoming European R&D programmes show a general trend towards enhanced flexibility and increased integration, and are characterised by their revised management procedures. Come and join us for a quick tour through the organisation of the Information Society Programme.

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As a representative of the European Commission (EC), Dr. Massimo Luciolli highlighted the projects related to health care technology in the Fourth Framework Programme and tried to indicate the future direction of the telemedical share within the Fifth Framework Programme in his ITIS'98 lecture. The upcoming European R&D programmes show a general trend towards enhanced flexibility and increased integration, and are characterised by their revised management procedures. Come and join us for a quick tour through the organisation of the Information Society Programme.

The research programmes and complementary policies within the EC focus on the quality improvement of the citizen's life in the community. The high tech growth sectors are situated in the pharmaceutical and medical equipment industry as well as in the multi-site applications' branch of telemedical learning and training. The major concern within the EC is directed towards items, such as standardisation, generation of a single market, consumer protection, support to small and medium enterprises (SMEs), and competition issues. Since the health care market more than ever seems fragmented, there is an urgent need for standardisation across Europe.

In the Fourth Framework Programme, there were 18 research programmes, divided into different blocks. Within the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) programmes, three major categories can be distinguished, namely ESPRIT (2035 Mecu), TELEMATICS (898 Mecu) and ACTS (671 Mecu). Since they apply to a variety of sectors, they receive the largest part of the funding but still the budget is minimal. TELEMATICS provides a specific area for health care applications. It particularly addresses the citizens, professionals and authorities in the set up of various pilot services to gain experience in solving technical, operational and legal barriers. The number of partners in each of the 130 projects usually is larger than in the ESPRIT programme because of their implementation in different member states.

ACTS is focused on fast networks and Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) one end-user applications in wider projects. In ESPRIT, health care projects are distributed over all eight areas of the programme and include the production of medical devices and storage systems, next to telemedical applications. One of the ESPRIT domains constitutes High Performance Computer Networking (HPCN) under which five research themes are classed. HPCN deals with traditional, collaborative R&D projects but also supports Technology Transfer Nodes' (TTN) actions and working groups in order to create networks of excellence. The TTNs are composed of specialists in a given area, who are playing a geographical role towards the industry. Health care projects in HPCN relate to systems and services for training, such as endoscopy; medical equipment for MRI, 3D and 4D applications; drug design; prostheses simulation and design; cooperative working with regard to remote imaging and diagnosing; and radiotherapy planning.

The upcoming Fifth Framework Programme will feature fewer programmes and more strictly focused objectives, translated into key actions. It will display a rolling workplan with more frequent calls and faster decision procedures. The overall budget for the new Information Society Programme (ISP) amounted to 3925 Mecu in the initial EC proposal but probably will be reduced. Approval of the Fifth Framework Programme is expected to take place in June'98 with the first calls to be organised in December'98. Seven programmes will be integrated in ISP, namely four thematic programmes and three traditional, horizontal programmes for international cooperation and innovation. Each thematic programme will have four to six key actions and will address both typical research of a generic nature and support for research infrastructures.

The second thematic programme concerns the creation of a user-friendly information society. Its four key actions are described as follows:

  1. systems and services for the citizen, for instance telemedicine
  2. new methods of work and electronic commerce
  3. multimedia content and tools
  4. essential technologies and infrastructure, for instance networking
The annual conference for presentation of the research programmes takes place in Vienna from November 30th till December 2nd 1998. An information day on the ISP has equally been planned in December. More details on the Fifth Framework Programme are to be found at http://www.cordis.lu.


Leslie Versweyveld

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