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Health service through PC’s assistance: European ideas


The European Commission's vision is to tight-up the health care sevice with science, research and innovations. That would help to address an active and healthy ageing, which is another top priority in the EU's list of innovation issues. These ideas were acknowledged at European symposium devoted to perspectives in developing practical health care solutions in Brussels at the end of January 2011.

Modern statistics shows that about 50 per cent of European adults tried to search online health information. It makes sense, once health conditions have been diagnosed, patients turned to web-sources to find out more through accessing tailored information and advice in the net, noted the Commission in February.

Modern technology – in particular ICT – can potentially greatly assists citizens wellbeing; the EU leaders are aware that it assissts to maintain a quality health and care system as well. There are research results and important pilot projects; however technology is not yet empowering most Europeans to manage their health, agrued Commissioner Neelie Kroes.

Among Europe's great problems are those of ageing population, increasing health costs and decreasing number of doctors, and occasional failures to improve the ICT's use.

According to Commission, the EU's challenge is to combine modern technology and health care. Modern wellbeing means that at the click of a mouse one can avoid time-consuming visits to the doctor through telemonitoring and/or webcam check-ups. While these can be the simplest of tasks, such little changes often make the most difference to a busy life. Extended services should be able to track the progress of lab tests, or even request a second opinion.

Short history

About ten years ago the European Commission started so-called “eEurope project” (2002) aimed at stimulating secure services, applications and content of various information, based on a widely available broadband infrastructure. (1)

Later on, the Commission empowered the European Standardization bodies (CEN, CENELEC and ETSI) to develop necessary standards. In 2009 they agreed on recommending standards relevant to e-Health , i.e. the standardization mandate "403". (2)

In the present Commission's Health Strategy (2008-13) a framework and objectives to the European work on core health issues are clearly stipulated with the aim on integrating health in all policies and on addressing global health threats. The strategic objectives include the main priority, i.e. “Dynamic Health Systems and New Technologies” among three other themes. (3)

At the end of 2009, on 1 December, the Council adopted conclusions on eHealth system.

Computers to assist health care

According to the Council's conclusions the p resent Union's eHealth strategy is based on the following approach to the problem:

  • eHealth refers to tools and services using information and communication technologies (ICTs) that can improve prevention, diagnosis, treatment, monitoring and management.

  • eHealth can benefit the entire community by improving access to care and quality of care and by making the health sector more efficient.

  • it includes information and data sharing between patients and health service providers, hospitals, health professionals and health information networks; electronic health records; telemedicine services; portable patient-monitoring devices, operating room scheduling software, robotized surgery and blue-sky research on the virtual physiological human. (4)

Therefore, the EU goals in eHealth are presented in the following way:

  • to improve citizens' health by making life-saving information available – between countries when necessary – using eHealth tools

  • to increase healthcare quality and access by making eHealth part of health policy and coordinating EU countries' political, financial and technical strategies

  • to make eHealth tools more effective, user-friendly and widely accepted by involving professionals and patients in strategy, design and implementation. (5)

In January 2011 a new round of communications to improve the eHealth system involving R&D and innovations took place leading to the discussions at the European symposium. (6)

Present policy quidelines: Commission's approach

The Commission is of the opinion that given the right information, advice, and equipment, most people should be able to monitor their conditions and lifestyle. They should be able to do that in confidence, security and comfort. And in those ways technology should help to build enhanced relationships with doctors or phisitians. The Commission regards it as a progressive way to a better quality of life; it is also fundamental to the general “European idea”: a better life in a preferred environment be it a home, the place of work, or the place of retirement.

Certainly, information technology does not replace the "human touch", argued Commissioner Neelie Kroes: it is simply a way to give people what they want. It helps doctors and carers fulfil their mission and help the system avoid unnecessary hospital stays.

The EU approach will allow a better respond to the challenges facing health and social care systems, support citizens, especially our older generation, and the economy.

According to Commission's information, in the UK, for example, health officials believe ICT enabled self-care could potentially reduce GP visits by 40% and hospital admissions by 50%. Length of hospital stays and days off work could also be reduced by 50%. As a result, people will have more time for themselves.

The EU intends to create a health and care system based on wellbeing, not just fighting diseases.

At the recent “Ambient Assisted Living Forum” in Denmark, Commissioner Neelie Kroes saw a vivid example: elderly people loving the physiotherapy techniques were taught and consulted via video. For example, an elderly lady with a chronic condition was living independently and happily in her own home, thanks to broadband and ICT devices.

Another challege, argues Commissioner Neelie Kroes is to enable people to enjoy travelling while having their medical retirement. The idea is to stimulate the “epSOS pilot project”, which is validating and improving patient summaries and ePrescription solutions across borders. Success in this project will improve the lives of the hundreds of millions of Europeans who travel within the EU. The simple act of accessing a vital piece of information - such as an allergy or chronic condition - can literally save lives. It can also mean peace of mind for an elderly person with a chronic disease – allowing them to travel across borders without unnecessary anxiety.

The Commissioner Neelie Kroes argued that “epSOS project” will soon be extended from 12 to 23 countries; therefore, the Commission's next step is to take on a wide agreement and ensure a minimum set of patient data across all EU-27.

The EU is collaborating with other countries outside the block: Commission signed at the end of December 2010, a Memorandum of Understanding with the US Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on cooperation in health related information and communications technologies. The MoU, which builds upon the work of epSOS, is a confirmation of an important step in tackling market fragmentation by creating global conditions for common approaches to interoperability and standardisation.

The Commission combines several EU policy directions, e.g. the "Digital Agenda for Europe" and the pilot European Innovation Partnership (EIP) for Active and Healthy Ageing. These efforts will join the member states' efforts to both improve technology and pull down the legal and organisational barriers that are preventing progress among the member states.

The EU-2020 strategy aims at achieving widespread deployment of telemedicine services, underlined Commissioner Neelie Kroes. As part of the EU Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme, the Commission calls for a minimum common set of patient data that can be accessed or exchanged electronically across member states. For example, the EU is aiming to reinforce the Ambient Assisted Living Joint Programme, following the encouraging findings of its first interim evaluation. The idea is in line with the objectives of the pilot “European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing”, whose main role is to increase quality of life, by bridging gaps between research and innovation in urgent spheres of peoples' lifes.

Eugene ETERIS, European Correspondent, February 2011


1. See: Commission's communication: e-Europe 2005: an information society for all.

2. See: 2009 ICT Standardisation Work Programme.

3. See: website: John Dalli, Commissioner for Health & Consumer policy.

4. See: Council conclusions on "Safe and efficient healthcare through eHealth".

5. See additional: http://ec.europa.eu/health/ehealth/policy/index_en.htm

6. See: Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda, Speech 11/19, 17 January 2011 “eHealth – empowering citizens and improving care”.

№2(52), 2011

№2(52), 2011