"The European approach to eHealth should be about spending euros on patients, not on paperwork. For example, electronic medical records can help doctors diagnose illness and prescribe treatments more accurately, thus reducing medical errors. It also means cutting down paperwork to improve efficiency. Electronic patient referrals in Denmark are saving €1 million a year and could rise to €3.5 million a year, if all referrals were sent electronically," said Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding.
"EU-US co-operation on eHealth is important as we are both large economic areas with the same characteristics [c.f. ageing population]. We need to co-ordinate the development of standards and interoperability in the this field," said the Commission's Information Society DG Director-General Fabio Colasanti.
"It is also clear that the technology as such is not enough. It needs to be accompanied with an appropriate legal environment and education of healthcare professionals," said Frans de Bruïne, director at DG Information Society.
EU Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliiou has warned governments to consider investments in potentially cost-saving health technology instead of simply cutting back on services. She stressed that the development of e-health solutions advanced by the Commission enables extensive increases in productivity.
“In the crisis we should be investing in health rather than cutting budgets. But we also have to seek favourable cost solutions just as much and grant prevention and health promotion, in particular, a greater priority,” Vassiliou said.
She said technology will be central to addressing the challenges facing health systems across Europe, including the threat posed by falling public budgets and an ageing population.
"We cannot talk about the future of our health systems without mentioning the development of health technologies. Technology, including developments in medicine, has saved lives. But at the same time, these innovations can frequently make healthcare more efficient. A good example of this is undoubtedly ehealth. And I think we should try to make ehealth a reality across Europe," the Commissioner said.
Florin Lupescu, Director at DG Information Society and Media at the European Commission, has said telemedicine will help prevent social isolation and allow older people to stay active and healthy for longer. "To achieve these goals, we need appropriate policies that will help promote introduction of such solutions for improved quality of life for elderly people and their carers, strongly increased efficiency of our care systems while creating fantastic new global market opportunities for European industry," he said.
Writing in Microsoft's White Paper on innovation in ehealth, John Vassallo, Vice President for Corporate Affairs at Microsoft Europe, said health infrastructure must be flexible in order to enable many different players to be part of an innovative healthcare IT ecosystem. He stressed the importance of interoperability, security and the need for new technologies to be "scalable".
"Technology enables us to reinvent healthcare. Such a venture deserves to be undertaken through deep partnership and broad collaboration with stakeholders. As a technology company, Microsoft shares the vision of enabling the modernisation of healthcare, focusing on better outcomes, not on technology adopter per se but rather on its usability," he said.
"eHealth should no longer be a subject of special conferences but simply the normal way we do healthcare," said Petra Wilson, director for the public sector healthcare at the Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group. "We need to give doctors hard-cash incentives, such as paying more per visit, to encourage them to adopt and use technology."
Peter Langkafel from SAP agrees that incentivation of doctors is important but said that it is not enough: "You need to show value and a business case for eHealth - improved quality care and patient safety and improved use of resources in healthcare (human resources, processes). The business case can be shown by cost-benefit studies."
"Why shouldn't patients have the same type of service possibility in healthcare as they do for instance in banking? There's a need to educate the patient about what can be achieved. The patients should turn to their healthcare providers and start putting pressure on them to use more technology," said Baldur Johnsen, director of healthcare- market development at Hewlett Packard.
"Healthcare is the fastest-growing sector of our company. This is serious business," said Charles Scatchard, vice-president of health sciences at Oracle. "We also know that all new health technology takes 17 years to be finally usable."
COCIR, the umbrella group for the radiological, electromedical and healthcare IT industry, has submitted a detailed position paper to the OECD on international comparisons of health ICT adoption and use. It advocates developing a common set of indicators on adoption of information technology by national health systems. This would allow easy comparison at the international level. However, it also acknowledged the need for flexibility so that individual countries can develop specific indicators to measure their own progress.
The industry group wants to see more cooperation and harmonisation between the OECD, the WHO and the European Commission.
A study by Warwick Business School on the use of eHealth in the EU claims that better governance and stronger political leadership are needed if the member states are to reap the rewards of enabling technologies (ETs) in the coming years.
The research, commissioned by US software giant Microsoft, says that ETs such as electronic health cards, telemedicine and patient portals could significantly boost healthcare delivery in Europe but that some countries are better prepared than others.
The study believes that technology can help improve the cost-effectiveness of European healthcare systems and that it is needed to meet the changing needs of doctors and patients. But this can only be fully achieved by integrating eHealth into public health policies and fostering more public-private partnerships, cross-border initiatives and new business models, the authors argue.
GE has launched a new eHealth business unit focused on healthcare IT. The company is stressing the need to connect healthcare systems and overcome national barriers.
Brandon Savage, chief medical officer of GE Healthcare IT said there is wide variations in clinical terminology, patient identification methods and systems architecture, making the integration of health information "exceptionally difficult". "Turning that information into value for the care provider is a second, even more challenging hurdle, requiring deep understanding of care provider requirements and clinical workflows," he said.
Advances in ehealth and telemedicine will have major implications for national health systems and private insurance companies. The Association Internationale de la Mutualité (AIM) has said the technology for telemedicine has existed for two decades but has yet to become commonplace. It said technical issues like infrastructure and interoperability will have to be addressed for IT to make a real difference to healthcare. It is calling on the European Commmission to develop evidence-based tools to help assess the value and impact of new technologies in the health arena.
The Standing Committee of European Doctors (CPME) believes that "all patients, irrespective of background and the nature of their problem, should be able to seek medical assistance being confident that their sensitive personal data can only be accessed by health care personnel who need this information to provide appropriate care. The patient should be contacted to give explicit consent to extended use of the data."
"E-health allows regions to overcome distance barriers when organising and delivering health services, and is therefore an important tool both for rural and urban areas. Developing such innovative technologies also contributes to a region’s overall economic development, by attracting companies specialised in this field and creating new employment opportunities," said Agneta Granström, County Councillor of Norrbotten, speaking at an Assembly of European Regions conference.
"We have to start by strengthening the co-operation between hospitals and between health care providers all over Europe. We don't need a single system, the same for everyone; we need different interoperable systems. Both universities and industry should fully appreciate the enormous potential e-health offers and together with the regions they should commit themselves to the development of e-health tools," she added.
The Pharmacists Group of the EU (PGEU) calls upon the national and European authorities to help pharmacists, together with other healthcare providers, to develop the advantages and opportunities that the increased use of the Internet and the development of e-health applications offer. PGEU adds that "the development of European standards and the mutually recognised certification of P2P applications, including the necessary standards for transmission of electronic prescriptions and related health data, should help all stakeholders to extend their existing services and health provision gradually and safely to Internet applications. It is essential that pharmacies have access to all relevant information."