Businesses urge eHealth ‘paradigm shift’

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As EU-US experts discussed potential areas for transatlantic co-operation on eHealth, the healthcare IT industry urged governments to pave the way for a definitive change in EU healthcare.

An EU-US eHealth 
workshop took place on 10 May 2007, just two days after the transatlantic business dialogue on innovation in healthcare. The workshop brought together representatives from the EU member states’ governments and institutions, the US government, academia and industry to discuss areas where transatlantic collaboration could be mutually beneficial. The sessions focused on interoperability, certification and improving patient safety and quality of healthcare through IT.

“EU-US co-operation on eHealth is important as we are both large economic areas with the same characteristics [cf. 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.

As the US government and EU officials presented the blocks’ respective eHealth agendas to kick off the workshop, Robert M. Kolodner, US national coordinator for health information technology urged “harmonisation in global context to do compatible systems as one moves forward”. 

Frans de Bruïne, director at DG Information Society, said that two European large- scale pilot projects were to be launched soon to test European co-operation with regards to the application of improved patient summaries on emergency data set and e-prescription. He also said that the Commission is planning to create “new conditions for wider deployment” of eHealth. These plans include publication, by the end of the year 2007, of a recommendation on interoperability on eHealth. 

“Things will change in any case but the question is: is it going fast enough with the increasing demand for healthcare, ageing population and decreasing healthcare workforce. 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,” de Bruïne added.

"We hope that this summit represents the first step towards a paradigm shift in healthcare in Europe. 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."

"Would you renounce to emails?" asked Baldur Johnsen, director of healthcare- market development at Hewlett Packard, to illustrate what such a paradigm- shift means. "Now that people use emails or bank cards, they would be reluctant to go back to old days of communicating only via postal letters. Once people have experienced eHealth, they cannot think of healthcare in any other terms. But there's now just something we need to get this thing rolling," said Johnsen.

"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 Johnsen.

"We are no accidental tourists here. Healthcare is the fastest-growing sector of our company. This is serious business," said Charles Scatchard, vice-president of health sciences at Oracle. "We know that all new health technology takes 17 years to be finally usable." 

With regard wider adoption of eHealth, "governments must win the support of clinicians before seeking the support of citizens because citizens are likely to trust clinicians more than the government", said Scatchard.

Peter Langkafel, for SAP: "Currently, there are a lot of local specialised, local health companies mainly because healthcare is not industrialised. Nowadays, however, you start to see the industrialisation of healthcare. 

Langkafel 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 show by cost-benefit studies."

The EU eHealth action plan (2004) seeks to boost the creation of national eHealth infrastructure systems, electronic health records and patient summaries and to ensure their interoperability. 

A recent report on European countries' eHealth priorities and strategies (April 2007) states that member states have made good progress in implementing the EU's eHealth strategy but have failed to address education and socio-economic issues falling under their responsibility (see EURACTIV 12 April 2007). 

In the eHealth 2007 conference, the EU-27 and the members of the European Economic Area adopted, on 19 April 2007, a common declaration on their commitment to pursue structured co-operation on cross-border electronic health services across Europe. 

The declaration proposes the launch of large-scale pilot projects to test European co-operation in the field and recommends that member states work on common European standards together with the healthcare IT industry to ensure interoperability but also to open up new market opportunities in the field. 

  • European pilot projects on emergency data set and e-prescription to be launched soon.
  • A Commission recommendation on interoperability on eHealth should be published by the end of the year 2007.
  • A group of commissioners in charge of competitiveness is expected to identify a number of pilot projects for lead markets by July 2007. A Commission Communication on the creation of lead markets is foreseen for September-October 2007. Health is expected to be one of the areas in which the public- sector could help create demand for innovation-rich goods and services.  
  • The Council is expected to conclude the discussions on the lead-market initiative by February 2008.

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