A new EU task force met for the first time on Tuesday (10 May) on the fringes of eHealth week in Hungary to assess the role of information and communications technologies (ICT) in health and social care.
The task force will advise the European Commission on how to unlock the potential of eHealth for safer, better and more efficient health care in Europe and also explore the relationships between eHealth, telemedicine and social policy.
Comprising of healthcare professionals, representatives of patients and of the medical, pharmaceutical and ICT industries, the group is chaired by Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves.
The Commission is looking to promote ICT applications to address challenges such as the rising ageing population, increases in chronic diseases, a shortage of health professionals and budget constraints.
On the wish list are remote diagnosis and treatment methods and securing the sharing of patient records.
Ultimately it is hoped that ICT solutions will enhance self-help and independence of patients and the elderly; and also develop new modelling-based diagnostic techniques.
The task force was welcomed by two commissioners in Budapest – Neelie Kroes, vice-president for the digital agenda, and Health Commissioner John Dalli, reflecting the two departments' straddled interest in eHealth.
The Commission's Digital Agenda for Europe initiative makes eHealth a priority. Meanwhile, an ongoing European Commission public consultation on eHealth is being managed by the EU executive's health department. The answers of the consultation will feed into the preparation of the eHealth Action Plan 2012-2020, which the Commission is due to present before the end of this year.
Kroes said: "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 health care and manage our health in the years to come."
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% of them grant patients online access to their medical data.
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 how innovation can benefit healthcare systems.