Monday

20th Aug 2018

Focus

The EU and e-health: a European disease

  • This year's e-health week will take place in Copenhagen. (Photo: quietdangst)

Healthcare, strictly speaking, is none of the EU's business. It is a sensitive issue that member states have largely preferred to keep in their own hands. They have allowed the EU to do little more than "support, co-ordinate, or supplement."

It is only when healthcare enters the realm of, say, competition or fundamental rights, that the European Commission is allowed to draft legislation - like on the harmonisation of medical devices, or more recently, patients' rights in cross-border healthcare.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

On e-health, therefore, much of the Brussels oeuvre consists of communications, recommendations, action plans, conferences and the odd pilot project.

It is one of the reasons why the adoption of e-health across the continent has been slow.

Already in 2004, when e-health was first put on the European agenda by way of a six-year action plan, the EU envisaged "a seamless exchange of health information across Europe." Eight years later, that remains little more than a pipedream.

In fact, much of the action plan does. "Nearly all actions of importance were delayed and some have not been fulfilled at all," according to the commission's assessment report, published in August 2011, which describes the plan as "naive."

"Increasingly, the EU is realising the complexity of the issue," says Joerg Artmann of research company Empirica, who have conducted several studies on e-health for the European Commission. "The real obstacle is never the technology. It is the different legal systems."

This was the case with today’s most prominent pilot project, epSOS, which is to lay the groundwork for a union-wide system of easily exchangeable patient data by 2015.

"It is the apogee of years and years of discussion and rewriting," says Artmann. "It is a kind of laboratory test to understand why things take so long. It is unbelievably hard."

The European Commission is not letting itself be put off too easily, however.

It believes e-health will not only help solve the problem of having to provide more healthcare with less money, when half of Europeans are old, but also boost the economy.

Together with the EU presidency, it continues to organise its annual e-health week - the next will take place in Copenhagen from 7 to 9 May - when national health ministers traditionally declare their support to the deployment of e-health across the continent.

It made e-health part of its Digital Agenda, a plan to digitise the European economy by 2020, and aims to give citizens online access to their medical data by 2015 and to achieve the widespread use of telemedicine services by 2020.

In 2008, it identified the e-health industry as one of six so-called Lead Market Initiatives, markets that are believed to be innovative and enjoy particular attention from the EU's harmonising efforts.

More recently, the European Commission convened both an e-health network and an e-health task force of national authorities and experts in the field respectively, to consult on the way forward and to provide input for, yes, a new action plan, to be presented after the summer this year.

Putting the 'e' in e-health

The 'e' has become a familiar sight before words like book or commerce, while health has long been spared the token affix of the digital age. But now e-health has arrived and seems set to revolutionise traditional healthcare.

Power to the patient

Doctors, it is said, are not what can be called early adopters of new technologies. Any healthcare revolution, then, will have to come through patients. Or rather, consumers, because patients of the 21st century make their own decisions.

Healthcare without borders

The town hospital of Guriceel, Somalia, is understaffed. The doctors who once worked there have all but fled the fighting that mars the country since decades. Those who remain often lack in education. But they do have an internet connection.

E-health business is good business

The e-health industry is growing fast. Ten years ago, it was "microscopic". But over the last couple of years, it has "exploded". Today, it is the third largest industry in healthcare.

News in Brief

  1. Italy threatens to return migrants to Libya
  2. MEP accuses Maltese government of 'hate campaign'
  3. EU values not negotiable, German FM tells Poland
  4. Audit warns 840 French bridges at risk of collapse
  5. Fashion king pours money into campaign for second Brexit vote
  6. Germany could aid Turkey, SPD leader hints
  7. UK government set to publish no-deal Brexit advice
  8. Germany and Greece strike deal on taking back migrants

EU-China cooperation on CO2 storage lost in limbo

A long-standing cooperation between the EU and China on carbon capture and storage has fallen off the political agenda – with the European Commission not having any comment available when asked for an update.

EU gets record response on 'summertime' consultation

The EU Commission has received several million responses from citizens, businesses, and organisations on whether to end the daylight summertime savings. Any tangible change would take ... time.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  2. IPHRCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  3. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  4. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  5. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  6. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  8. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  10. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  12. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma

Latest News

  1. Greece 'normal' again after end of crisis, EU says
  2. Putin strikes blow against Russia's isolation by Europe
  3. EU-China cooperation on CO2 storage lost in limbo
  4. Greece exits bailouts, but difficult path ahead
  5. EU gets record response on 'summertime' consultation
  6. 'Nativism' and the upcoming Swedish and Bavarian elections
  7. Former Malta opposition leader fears for his life
  8. Women shun EU-funded site for female entrepreneurs

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us