Brussels, 26 May 2005
EU health ministers and the European Commission have announced their decision to establish an integrated, compatible and interoperable European e-health system by 2010.
At a conference on on-line health, which took place in Norway on 23 and 24 May, ministers and Commission representatives pledged, through national and European action plans, to put the best information and communication technologies (ICT) at the service of European citizen's health.
'It is well recognised that medical errors and accidents cost thousands of lives as well as millions of euro every year. It is also acknowledged that e-health tools such as electronic [prescriptions] and real-time decision support - when coupled with integrated, interoperable electronic health records - can reduce significantly the number of such accidents and errors,' read the conference conclusions. 'Yet patient safety will not be the only benefit of an integrated e-health infrastructure. Efficient e-health tools developed for the use of health professionals will facilitate more flexible and collaborative work within and between health institutions as well as between traditional health care spheres, such as primary and secondary care and home care.'
At the event, ministers agreed to ensure coherent and interoperable health systems within the next five years and to work towards projects such as completing the EU health portal; strengthening health threat surveillance using ICTs; further promoting the use of health cards; agreeing on approaches to best practices and benchmarking; advancing developments in integration and interoperability of health information systems and electronic health records; and making solid progress on the ICT implications of patient and professional mobility.
'The European approach to e-health should be about: spending euros on patients - not on paperwork!' stated Viviane Reding, European Commissioner for Information Society and Media. 'For example, electronic medical records can help doctors to diagnose illness and prescribe treatments more accurately, thus reducing medical errors. It also means cutting down paperwork to improve efficiency. Electronic patient referrals in Denmark are saving 1 million euro a year and could rise to 3.5 million euro a year, if all referrals were sent electronically.'
The Luxembourg Minister for Health, Mars Di Bartolomeo called on his colleagues to reinforce their engagement in favour of e-health and to ensure, in collaboration with the European Commission, the availability of the means necessary to start pilot projects in all the Member States.
'The new technological applications bestowed by the information society era are almost limitless and must be used to the benefit of public health,' he stated, before warning that e-health 'cannot be realised at zero rate'. However, he added, no one can deny the added benefits it brings for both the patients, and the health and financing systems.
A better coordination and a reduction in the number of existing working groups is an essential condition to ensure the rapid success of e-health, Mr Di Bartolomeo concluded.
For further information about EU policies and actions on e-health please visit:
http:///europa.eu.int/information_soci ety /qualif/health/index_en.htm