eHealth requires harmonisation across Europe
8 October 2005
Insurmountable hurdles to harmonisation of healthcare in Europe are being
created as a result of incompatible electronic systems being introduced in
EU member countries.
The 'electronisation' of health care systems is running at full speed now
in virtually all European states. Whether it is for administrative
procedures, electronic prescriptions or the use of chip cards as replacement
for conventional administrative systems, national health officials
everywhere anticipate considerable savings.
In a conference of experts held on the topic of eHealth at the European
Health Forum Gastein, the biggest health policy event in the EU, the chances
for this development were underscored, though experts also warned of several
problems. “If international harmonisation of the systems is not intensively
undertaken, particularly within the European Union, then the organisation of
health services by chip card will pose major difficulties,” warned Reinhold
Mainz, chip card expert in the German Ministry of Health. As a result of the
increasing mobility of Europeans, it is natural that health services will be
more frequently consumed. While “paper can still be sent from one country to
another, basically insurmountable hurdles are being created as a result of
incompatible electronic systems.”
The magic word is “interoperability”. This means that either the chip
card can be used abroad or that communication between the systems is
possible without restriction. The efforts at establishing this common basis
are bundled into the “eHealth Action Plan”. During the length of the
programme, which last until 2010, uniform patient identification systems,
the basis for transmission of electronic health data as well as uniform
quality standards for eHealth products and services are to be established.
In addition to technical harmonisation, however, harmonising the legal
frameworks is also of major importance.
A pressure group for EU-wide standardisation already exists: in 2004
Germany, Austria, France, Norway, Slovakia and the Netherlands established
the Interoperability Initiative for a European eHealth Area.
That time is pressing demonstrates the diversity of the eHealth programmes
currently underway throughout the EU. “Particularly in the new EU states,
projects from the Baltic States to Hungary and on to Slovenia are in high
gear,” says Gérard Comyn, head of the EU Commission division “ICT for
Health”. “To even a larger extent than member countries in the west, these
states can make enormous progress in quality, customer friendliness and
cost-efficiency as a result of eHealth.”