The Commission's 2004 e-Health Action Plan seeks to boost the creation of national eHealth infrastructure systems, electronic health records and patient systems and to ensure their interoperability. This official strategy is complemented by the EU executive's ICT for Health Unit strategy to manage health risks and reduce the incidence of avoidable deaths.
The ICT for Health strategy, adopted in 2006 as part of the Commission's i2010 framework for growth and jobs, aims to promote the transformation of the European healthcare landscape. It states that in order to face the challenges of ageing populations, Europe needs a "new healthcare delivery model, based on preventive and person-centred health systems, which can only be achieved through proper use of ICT".
The EU is currently supporting research into Personal Health Systems under its Seventh Research Framework Programme. It is seeking to improve the productivity of healthcare systems, ensure continuous and more personalised care solutions and contribute to the prediction and prevention of disease as well as improve patient safety and the industrial leadership of the eHealth industry.
The specific areas for action include:
- Personalised (health status) preventive monitoring for people at risk and for chronic disease management. Expected R&D outcomes include wearable or portable/mobile ICT systems, remote monitoring and care, interoperability with electronic medical records, avoiding hospitalisation, promoting doctor-patient interaction, facilitating personalised guidance and prompting earlier medical intervention.
- Point-of-care diagnostics to, for example, identify predisposition to disease, aid treatment and create an interface with hospital and laboratory information systems and electronic medical records.
In addition, the Commission and 14 EU member states established, in 2007, a joint programme called Ambient Assisted Living (AAL) (€1billion 2008-2013). This programme is a so-called 'Article 169 initiative', which enables the Community to participate in research programmes undertaken jointly by several member states, including participation in structures created for the execution of national programmes.
The AAL programme supports research which mainly seeks to enhance the quality of life and support the maintenance of the health and functional capability of the elderly by supporting carers, families and care organisations through the use of ICT. It also seeks to promote a better and healthier lifestyle for individuals at risk, lower future social security costs and increase the efficiency and productivity of the resources used by ageing societies.
Industry players have come together to lobby Brussels to embrace AAL as part of Europe's response to the economic downturn. They argue technology can help cut the cost of hospitalisation and ensure value for money by increasing compliance with medicines (EURACTIV 19/10/09).
Although the vision to take healthcare out of the hospital, bring it to the home and embed it into people's lives through Personal Health Systems is clear, "little deployment has happened so far. The barriers to deployment originate at different levels and are associated with a multitude of technological, cultural, legal, political and market-related factors," argues a recent stakeholder conference report.
The same report states that the successful introduction and deployment of Personal Health Systems requires "profound changes at system level". It also stresses the increasing importance of factors like organisational change, economical viability, reimbursement, legal framework, liability, data security and privacy as well as cross-border availability and the provision of services.
Industry would like to foster the spread of eHealth systems through open standards and interoperability, as these are important to make sure that single companies do not dominate sub-sectors of the eHealth market, which could potentially spoil the whole sector's growth potential. In particular SMEs depend on open standards to integrate with bigger companies' infrastructure. Furthermore, industry stresses the importance of certification, a friendly regulatory environment and awareness-raising with the public and policymakers.
There are concerns that allowing interoperable systems to spring up across Europe will hamper the potential benefits offered by health technology (EURACTIV 9/9/09).
As for long-term R&D and the path towards more personalised, computational medicine, the Commission supports initiatives regarding the Virtual Physiological Human (VPH) as part of the EU's Seventh Research Framework Programme funding for ICT. The aim is to develop patient-specific computer models for personalised and predictive healthcare and ICT-based tools for modelling and simulating human physiology and disease-related processes. Future applications would include a medical simulation environment for surgery, the prediction of disease, early diagnosis and assessment of the efficacy and safety of drugs without patent trials.
The Commission's Lead Market Initiative (LMI) adopted in December 2007 identified eHealth as one of the areas in which high-growth potential markets for research and innovation-rich goods and services could be created, with the public sector driving the demand. The annexed action plan details how legislation on the area, including personal health systems, home care and chronic disease management services, will be improved and how public procurement, standardisation, labelling and certification will be encouraged.
Study to look at personalised health
The Karolinska Institutet in Sweden is currently surveying attitudes to personalised healthcare technologies in an effort to inform public poilcy debate on its costs and benefits. To participate, click here