Towards a new health care approach in the future Information Society

Brussels 11 May 1998 The Directory General XIII of the European Commission (EC) has just issued a report on the "Needs and options for future research in Information Society applications of general interest". Special attention has been paid to the quickly changing innovations in sectors like health and education. The contents is based on the findings of the "Strategic Requirements Group", founded in February 1996, to prepare the general structure and themes of the upcoming Fifth Framework Programme. The group consists of external experts as well as of Commission staff, people who equally have published separate sectoral reports, describing in detail which direction to follow in each research activity field. We here present you the major issues, objectives, mission and vision, as laid out in the specific report on health care within the Telematics Applications Programme.

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The Directory General XIII of the European Commission (EC) has just issued a report on the "Needs and options for future research in Information Society applications of general interest". Special attention has been paid to the quickly changing innovations in sectors like health and education. The contents is based on the findings of the "Strategic Requirements Group", founded in February 1996, to prepare the general structure and themes of the upcoming Fifth Framework Programme. The group consists of external experts as well as of Commission staff, people who equally have published separate sectoral reports, describing in detail which direction to follow in each research activity field. We here present you the major issues, objectives, mission and vision, as laid out in the specific report on health care within the Telematics Applications Programme.

Health care in Europe as much as elsewhere, is being submitted to important changes in the paradigm. We are moving towards a citizen-centred care instead of a hospital-centred one, due to the ever increasing pressure of providing more and better services with limited resources. To meet the challenge of "doing more with less", information and communication technologies (ICT) are being developed and refined, in order to improve information distribution and sharing between the various levels of health care delivery, such as the primary services, the hospitals, home care, rehabilitation, and health promotion. As a result, the European ICT industry will benefit from these new opportunities, since the design of competitive products by small and medium-sized enterprises (SME's) tends to clear the way to an optimised information health care management and to further strengthen the specific European health domains of excellence.

The Fifth Framework Programme will be concentrating, amongst other themes, on the creation of a user-friendly Information Society and the promotion of innovation and participation by SME's. As such, these items have to deal with a series of trends and characteristics in the modern health care society. In this regard, more chronic, degenerative but also new diseases emerge, while old ones seem to become resurgent, because the population is ageing and the epidemiological landscape is shifting. The combination of information technology with the progressive implementation of invasive and non-invasive medical technologies however, has a tremendous impact on diagnostic and therapeutic action. The consumer is also ready to take responsibility and pay for his own health, but in turn expects and demands accurate information and high quality and access of services.

The EC reporters hope to achieve their goal of building a community based, distributed health care information technology infrastructure by investing in system integration and enabling deployment through the installation of large-scale demonstrators. For this purpose, they have to concentrate on existing standards and try to develop new ones in co-operation with major stakeholders. Large companies and SME's will have to work together via the facilitation of networking for the latter party. The industry will be the first user of future R&D projects' results, as well as the national competence centres for information technology in health. New products will appear on the market for the benefit of a varied end-user group of health care providers and professionals, patients, third party payers, researchers, libraries, training and education facilities, and citizens.

The Strategic Requirements Group has defined a list of concrete action lines in order to generate efficient health services for the citizen, virtual health care as well as mobile services. They want project managers and industry to pay continuous attention to the interoperability of applications; the general access to health services, continuity of care and user interfaces; and the need for evidence based medicine. The R&D actions should focus on both the dissemination of the results attained with large-scale demonstrators and the studies on the conditions of their own sustainability. Health care professionals should be provided with telemedical tools for international care, intelligent environments, interoperable multimedia applications for diagnosis and therapy integration, and telematics facilities for biomedical and epidemiological research.

If the reserved resources allow it, the Fifth Framework R&D Programme preferably has to include room for indicators to monitor and benchmark efficiency, effectiveness and health gain; tools for "data mining" as to exploit epidemiological and all sorts of other data for targeting health promotion, education, and disease prevention; and applications surveying the people's health. Ideally, the projects' selection should be performed in two phases. The European Commission will present a contract to the consortia which are chosen in the first phase, as to cover the costs for writing the definitive proposal. The function of project manager is not merely limited any longer to routine control measures. Instead, he is charged with a proactive monitoring role, in order to create added value to the project portfolio. You can find the complete health care report on the Telematics Applications Programme Web site.


Leslie Versweyveld

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