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by Dominic Tyer
A “revolution in healthcare” is needed if Europe is to fully benefit from advances in eHealth, according to the European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy.
Such a transformation will mean “defining new tasks, new skills, defining new ways of financing, cost sharing, risk-sharing”, John Dalli told the Annual Meeting of the Global eHealth Ambassadors' Programme (GeHAP) in Lisbon, Portugal on Monday.
“The success of eHealth calls for a revolution in healthcare as we know it – a re-engineering of health systems – changing the way health systems are organised; changing the role of the doctor; changing the role of the patient,” he said.
Dalli said he sees the use of information technology and tools as “a main pillar on which to build our action to achieve equality in health”.
But although eHealth has already made a difference, Dalli warned that “even in developed countries it calls for substantial human and capital investment in order to turn its promise into reality”.
The Commissioner hopes his European eHealth Network can come together to find solve challenges such as the need for efficient and reliable data transfer across the EU so data can follow patients when they travel across Europe.
The voluntary network is already working on how best to exchange of data across borders, as well as focusing on semantics and interoperability and the how to enable the use of this health data for medical research.
The plan is they will agree on a minimum set of information that needs to be on an electronic record so that such records can be used, and standardised to some extent, across the EU.
Dalli also used his speech to highlight the potential of patient registries, which pool data on the monitoring of patients with a specific disease, to improve the search for new treatments.
Currently, fragmented registries are spread across different countries putting a "brake on medical research”, said Dalli.
To improve this situation he has set up a large group of EU Member States in a Joint Action on Patient Registries, which will look at how existing registries are shaped, and develop best practice guidance for creating a new registry that works across borders.
Meanwhile, other EU eHealth initiatives will look at:
• The use of electronic prescriptions to facilitate 'cross-border prescriptions'
• The cost-benefit of eHealth tools, through the EU-supported Renewing Health project
• Putting a long-term eHealth strategy in place, with the EC due to launch a new eHealth Action Plan by the end of this year.
“Making eHealth a reality requires vision and commitment to push foreword a revolution in healthcare systems. There is no single easy path to eHealth transformation. Much value comes from sharing experiences and best practices between countries, institutions and professionals,” Dalli concluded.