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Promoting IT for healthcare system in Europe: Commission’s plan for 2012-2020


European Commission has been coordinating the so-called eHealth research activities in the member states for over 20 years. Since 2004, when the first eHealth Action Plan was launched in the EU, the Commission launched policy initiatives aimed at fostering widespread adoption of eHealth technologies across the EU. Presently, the Commission is preparing the eHealth Action Plan for 2012-2020; it has to be finalized by the end of 2011.

In 2010, the flagship initiatives Digital Agenda for Europe and Innovation Union have been launched as part of the EU's Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. Both flagships have envisaged an important role for eHealth arrangements. Thus, the Digital Agenda for Europe included a number of targeted eHealth actions and goals as part of a wider strategy towards sustainable healthcare and ICT-based support for dignified and independent living. The Innovation Union strategy introduces the concept of a pilot European Innovation Partnership on active and healthy ageing, which is being put in place in 2011.(1)

With the aim of coordinating abovementioned initiatives, the Commission has created eHealth Task Force to assess the role of information and communications technologies (ICT) in health and social care and to suggest ways for ICT to speed up innovation in healthcare to the benefit of patients and the whole healthcare sector.

eHealth week in Budapest

Present event –eHealth week in Budapest (10-15 May) is the high level advisory group, which comprises health care professionals, representatives of patients and of the medical, pharmaceutical and ICT industries, legal experts and policy makers. It is chaired by Estonia's President Toomas Hendrik Ilves. Present eHealth week in Hungary has invited health care professionals, representatives of patients as well as medical, pharmaceutical and ICT industries, legal experts and policy makers.

The Commission acknowledged that ICT applications have already helped to empower patients and address challenges faced by EU healthcare systems like an ageing population, a rise in chronic diseases, a shortage in health professionals and budget constraints by, for example, enabling remote diagnosis and treatment and secure sharing of patient records. However, there is considerable potential to develop eHealth much further in the future: allowing healthcare workers to dedicate more time to be with patients; enhancing self-help and independence of patients and elderly; and also to develop new modeling-based diagnostic techniques.

Commission's opinion

A recent survey on eHealth shows that hospitals are not yet deploying ICTs to their full potential. Although most hospitals are connected to broadband, only 4 per cent of them grant patients online access to their medical data.(2)

Important are the opinions of the two “coordinating” commissioners' opinion about the issue:

"The potential of eHealth for delivering better and sustainable care to every European is enormous. I expect the eHealth Task Force to creatively think through the possible consequences and opportunities of the digital area for the way we receive and deliver healthcare and manage our health in the years to come. "Neelie Kroes, European Commission Vice-President for the Digital Agenda.

"We believe that eHealth tools can help provide better care, to more people, in a more sustainable and efficient manner. There is a clear need in Europe to exploit the potential of eHealth to deliver concrete solutions for patients: i nnovative tools for chronic disease management and the use of telemedicine to lessen the impact of health workforce shortages are examples of the immense added value of ICT in health. It is imperative that interoperable ICT systems and medical devices complement our initiative to give patients the right to cross-border health care. ICT is also an important tool to help us in our endeavour to achieve sustainability and redress inequalities in health care". John Dalli, European commissioner in charge of Health and Consumer Policy.(3)

Commission eHealth task force

The eHealth Task Force will advise the Commission on how to unlock the potential of eHealth for safer, better and more efficient healthcare in Europe inter alia as regards diagnostics, prevention and treatment. It will look carefully at how to achieve inter-operability of eHealth services and technologies across the EU.

It will also explore the relationships between eHealth, telemedicine, and social policy, initiatives.

The Task Force will take into account current policy developments at EU level, including the Digital Agenda for Europe, the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing and the recently adopted Directive on patient rights for cross border care, but its focus will be on the future, and how innovation can benefit healthcare systems and society at large.

Public consultations

On 2 May 2011 the Commission initiated a Steering Group for innovation on active and healthy ageing. The EU-led Steering Group is discussing how to improve the health and quality of life of older people, increase sustainability of healthcare systems and create new growth and market opportunities for Europe.(4)

During the whole 2011 there is an ongoing European Commission public consultation on eHealth. The consultation's result will feed into the preparation of the eHealth Action Plan 2012-2020 that the Commission is due to present before the end of 2011. This process will also contribute to the definition of the future research activities aiming for better diagnosis, early detection and management of diseases, in particular with the use of personalised guidance of patients and of modeling and simulation techniques.(5)


1. More on these EU initiatives see: IP/10/1288 and MEMO/10/473, as well as IP/10/581, MEMO/10/199 and MEMO/10/200.

2. See MEMO/11/282.

3. IP/11/551, Brussels, 10 May 2011.

4. See: IP/11/519.

5. See IP/11/461.

More information on Public Consultation on the eHealth Action Plan (eHAP) 2012-2020:


On Digital Agenda see website: http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/digital-agenda/index_en.htm

Eugene ETERIS, European Correspondent

№5(55), 2011

№5(55), 2011