The benefits of digital health are clear. It can improve the reach, impact and efficiency of health care. It can help improve the training of the health workforce, strengthen public health surveillance, and provide health services to remote and underserved populations. Digital health can also empower patients to take control of their health, and aid in the transition from reactive treatment to proactive prevention of diseases. However, barriers remain to adopting digital tools.
More than 300 decision-makers, policy experts and researchers from 50 countries gathered at the WHO symposium on the Future of Digital Health Systems in Denmark to discuss the way forward.
Source: WHO/Europe | Health systems – Towards a digital health roadmap for the WHO European Region
Today, the first EU patients can use digital prescriptions issued by their home doctor when visiting a pharmacy in another EU country: Finnish patients are now able to go to a pharmacy in Estonia and retrieve medicine prescribed electronically by their doctor in Finland.
The initiative applies to all ePrescriptions prescribed in Finland and to the Estonian pharmacies that have signed the agreement. The novelty of this initiative is that the ePrescriptions are visible electronically to participating pharmacists in the receiving country via the new eHealth Digital Service Infrastructure, without the patient having to provide a written prescription. This is in line with our policy on Digital Health and Care, which aims to empower patients by giving access to their health data and ensuring continuity of care.
Source: European Commission – PRESS RELEASES – Press release – First EU citizens using ePrescriptions in other EU country
It is an inescapable fact that working within the healthcare sector means the use of potentially sensitive or confidential data. Treatment and care of individuals requires personal details to be acquired, accessed and maintained. The result of this essentially concerns patient information being stored by healthcare organisations, and with millions of records needing to be kept safe and secure, digital security is now more relevant than ever.
Digital security can be worrisome for practitioners and healthcare organisations around the country. To properly maintain so much data is a task in itself, but when considering the requirements of the GDPR and tightening regulations from other authorities, the whole process becomes even more daunting.
Medical services are not exempt from new rules, placing further responsibility on the management of your patient’s data. You are liable for the consequences of data breaches if not managed properly. GDPR fines can hit in the millions, which is an alarming thought — especially considering the sheer volume of data you need to store and use.
Source: Digital security in healthcare: major factors affecting patient safety
Estonia’s Minister of Health and Labour Riina Sikkut tells Health Europa what we can learn from the Estonian e-health system.
The Estonian e-health system is among the world’s most ambitious and a clear example of why this small EU country is widely hailed as one of the most advanced digital nations on the planet. Already, more than 95% of the data generated by hospitals and doctors has been digitised, and citizens can enjoy easy access to their own medical records, prescriptions, and the most suitable health professional.
Source: Learning from the Estonian e-health system
The ‘Digital health policies for Children’s Health’ workshop was about strengthening children’s immunisation in Europe through health data standards and about connecting patient summaries to EU vaccination cards and immunisation registries.
Immunisation information of children could be vital in emergency situations, to determine the level of immunity of a child who has been exposed to an infection risk, such as tetanus or meningitis. It can also be useful for the care professional to advise a child or parent if the child is due for a vaccine or booster or has fallen behind schedule.
This fits within the context of both the European Union and the World Health Organisation (WHO) seeking to drive higher child immunisation uptake, and effective holistic child health care.
To read more about this on the European Commission website go to: One step closer to digitalise children’s vaccination status on a European level – European Commission
In a journey that started over a decade ago, the Ministry of Health of Latvia demonstrated its commitment to achieving universal health coverage by creating a national programme of electronic health (eHealth). This has been a key element of ensuring that Latvian people receive the right care in the right place and at the right time.
In the past, concerns such as data privacy and confidentiality were a barrier to converting Latvia’s fragmented, paper-based system into a modern, efficient and accessible eHealth system. Now, several comprehensive improvements, aided by technical support from the WHO Country Office in Latvia, have helped the eHealth system reach a high level of reliability and acceptance.
To read more about Latvia’s eHealth journey on the WHO website go to: WHO/Europe | The eHealth journey in Latvia
In a recent study, screening rates for hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection among baby boomers increased fivefold in the year following implementation of an electronic health record (EHR)-based prompt for primary care physicians. The prompt also led to dramatic increases in follow-up specialised care for infected patients, according to the Hepatology study.
To read more: Electronic Health Record Alert Improves HCV Screening and Treatment
The European Commission has launched a public consultation on how Europe should promote digital innovation in health and care, for the benefits of citizens and health systems in Europe. The input will feed into a new policy Communication to be adopted by the end of 2017, as announced in the recent review of the Commission’s Digital Single Market strategy.
Mariya Gabriel and Carlos Moedas stated:
‘We are dedicated to improving European citizens’ quality of living by improving Europe’s health, care and research systems by using digital technologies to their full potential. This consultation will help us identify ways to offer citizens, medical professionals and researchers better access to health data, prevention, rapid response to pandemic threats, personalised treatments and care. We are considering new digital initiatives to deliver on the free movement of patients and data, to support the modernisation of national health systems, and to bring together scattered evidence and innovative knowledge from across Europe. At the heart of our policies, citizens and their wellbeing are our first priority.’
The consultation will collect information on three main pillars:
- Citizens’ secure access to their health data and the possibility to share it across borders, clarifying citizens’ rights and enhancing interoperability of electronic health records in Europe;
- Connecting and sharing data and expertise to advance research, personalise health and care, and better anticipate epidemics;
- Using digital services to promote citizen empowerment and integrated person-centred care.
Citizens, patient organisations, health and care professionals, public authorities, researchers, industries, investors, insurers and users of digital health tools are all invited to share their views via EU Survey until 12 October 2017.
This report ‘How can voluntary cross-border collaboration in public procurement improve access to health technologies in Europe?’ examines the legal framework put in place by the EU to foster voluntary cross-border collaboration in the field of public procurement of health technologies. It looks at recent experiences and developments in cross-border collaboration across Europe and explores the challenges and opportunities that such cross-border collaboration present.
To download the report on cross-border collaboration in public procurement from the euro.who.int website
Europe faces a major challenge with the sustainability and quality of health and care provision, as a consequence of demographic change and improvements in medical treatment. Public expenditure on health and long-term care has been increasing over the last decades in all EU Member States, and is expected to rise even further as a consequence of an ageing population. In 2015, it accounted for 8.7% of GDP in the EU and could reach up to 12.6% of GDP in 2060, according to a recent EU report.
Digital technology can improve health and care provision, allowing citizens to live longer and more healthy life years (HLYs) and it can help in innovating the way we deliver and receive health and care services. The European Commission has set up a task force bringing together technology and health policy makers in order to put the citizen at the centre of health and care re-design.
For more information about the taskforce to take health and digital policies further on the ec.europa.eu website