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EC focuses on transformative potential of eHealth

But as eHealth Week starts, patient groups warn that patient empowerment could fail without better access to technology

eHealth Week

Europe's annual eHealth Week kicked off yesterday in Denmark with EC commissioners focusing on how new technology can help governments cope with the demands of an ageing population.

Nellie Kroes Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for Digital Agenda Empowerment, said: "Longer lifespans are a triumph of medical science, and a testament to better living conditions. But they pose a challenge too: how do we keep those older people active, independent and fulfilled? How do we preserve affordable public healthcare? How do we cope with the emerging shortage of healthcare workers?

"New information and communications technology can help. It offers us not just new gadgets, new efficiencies or new systems. But whole new paradigms by which to provide health services."

She focused on potential applications in chronic conditions, which affect "tens of millions of Europeans," highlighting work done in the UK and Denmark.

"In the UK, the NHS Choices website gets up to 11m visitors a month ... [and] here in Denmark local telemedicine ideas for the pregnant and chronically ill are being scaled up to national level."

Held this year in Copenhagen, eHealth Week is the largest annual pan-European Health IT event, and the host nation was keen to showcase its work in the field.

Danish Minister for Health Astrid Krag said: “We have come a long way in Denmark. For instance, you can access both your hospital journal and an overview of your prescribed medicine online. And you can perform parts of your treatment at home."

But she added: "Europe needs to focus on how digital solutions can improve the lives of patients.”

Steps are being taken in this direction, as seen with the EC's recent Task Force on redesigning health in Europe for 2020 report, which Kroes said was "a major step forward".

Its five recommendations cover:

  • Putting patients in control of their personal data
  • Using anonymised data to deliver better healthcare and foster life-saving innovation
  • Getting systems connected and talking to each other
  • Increasing transparency and accountability
  • Getting more people involved, including those without Internet access.

This last point is a key challenge according to a European network of public health NGOs and other not-for-profit organisations.

The European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) said it "strongly believes that patient empowerment is invariably linked to access".

"Technology holds an enormous potential to help all population groups make informed health choices. Nevertheless, it requires a robust interconnection between health literacy and digital literacy.

"While eHealth can enable patients to play a more active part in managing their own health, it may also increase existing health inequalities. Only those able to afford the necessary tools and gain the right skills are equipped to navigate online. Until the eHealth playing field is not levelled, threats such as misinterpretation of information, abuse of patient data, and advertising targeting vulnerable groups loom large."

The network noted that that up to 150m Europeans (30 per cent of the total population) have never been online, and there are vast differences in uptake of eHealth solutions between different European countries, regions, and social groups.

"As more and more aspects of our lives happen online, eHealth emerges as a complementary way forward. Yet, Europe's digital divide hinders the vast advantages that the still-nascent eHealth paradigm offers," EPHA said.

8th May 2012

From: Marketing

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