Brussels presses for progress on lead markets for eHealth

The European Commission has called for quick action and strengthened national co-operation on lead market opportunities for eHealth in order to increase economic benefits and improve quality of health services.

“The prospective return on investment of eHealth is relatively high when compared to the costs inherent in the health sector,” argues a Commission report on accelerating the development of the eHealth market in Europe, published in late December 2007.

The report, drafted by a Commission eHealth task force, comprising representatives of several DGs, sketches out a number of policy recommendations for areas of intervention up to 2010.

The recommendations, directed at industry, member states and other eHealth stakeholders, focus on four main obstacles to the development of the eHealth lead market, namely:

  • Reducing market fragmentation and lack of interoperability through pilot actions, benchmarking, standardisation and certification; 
  • improving legal certainty and consumer acceptance by possibly adopting a legal initiative for eHealth and telemedicine as well as an initiative to enforce personal data protection legislation, disseminating best practice and guidelines; 
  • optimising funding opportunities through strengthened national and community R&D co-operation on eHealth; and; 
  • improving procurement by facilitating the expression of public demand through more innovation-friendly procurement activities and networking public procurers.

Just days before the publication of the report, the Commission adopted a new strategy on investing public money in high-risk technological research. The initiative seeks to clarify possible conflicts of this type of investment with EU state aid rules and procurement regulations and envisages flexibility for the member states to co-operate with suppliers across borders in risk-benefit sharing.

Lead markets are high-growth potential markets for research and innovation-rich goods and services. EU initiatives focus on areas where public authorities can facilitate industry-led innovation by creating favourable legal and regulatory frameworks, setting standards, improving access to risk capital, providing support for research and acting as a launch customer. 

eHealth has been identified as one of the areas in which an innovation-friendly market can be created for businesses to launch new products and services. eHealth stands for the application of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) across the whole range of functions that affect the health sector - from the doctor to the hospital manager and from data processing to social security administrators and patients.

  • 10 Jan. 2008: The Commission will publish a communication on the implementation of a lead market approach. 
  • Early 2008: The Council is expected to adopt the lead market initiative. 
  • First half of 2008: A Commission communication is due on fostering innovation in services. 
  • By mid-2008: The Commission will propose concrete action to help member states launch public procurement actions in high-risk technological fields. 

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