European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Vytenis Andriukaitis spoke at eHealth week in Riga about how digital applications are integral to tackling today’s health challenges in Europe
When I started as a practising medical doctor, we kept handwritten health records and had face to face consultations. There was no other way. But this has been changing ever since. Digital applications and digital solutions are part of our daily lives – including in the area of healthcare. It is now common for health records to be kept electronically. Patients’ health information can be shared between health professionals in no time regardless of geographic location.
Remote consultations with a doctor over the Internet facilitate access to care, save resources and pave the way for telemedicine and telehealthcare services across and within borders.
eHealth products and services are contributing to prevention, health risk management, and thus to more sustainable healthcare. It also generates income and jobs, while offering high-level technology solutions to healthy people, patients and doctors.
eHealth also creates many possibilities for overcoming today’s challenges in Europe’s healthcare sector. First, there is an increase in health risk factors such as alcohol, smoking, malnutrition which are badly managed, thus causing chronic diseases and premature deaths due to the lack of prevention.
Second, the number of people with chronic diseases is predicted to continue to rise which will put even more pressure on healthcare services. Already today, the costs of chronic diseases account for 70-80% of total healthcare costs in the EU.
Third, another challenge is Europe’s ageing population. The Europeans aged over 65 years already represent 17% of the total European population. This number will nearly double by 2060.
All of these challenges scream for innovative solutions – eHealth can offer them.
eHealth can empower people with risk factors and patients – we have to act in both cases. There is huge potential in using eHealth tools to help prevent diseases and to promote good health. New solutions such as mobile health apps can enable people to actively engage in their own health management for instance by tracking their fitness or by monitoring their health status. Apps can invite people to take part in screening programmes or inform about promotion campaigns.
These solutions are already becoming increasingly popular and the market for them is growing rapidly. Of course, this requires a shift how we organise healthcare systems, to focus more on prevention and promotion, rather than on cure.
And, it poses regulatory and other challenges. It is not easy to find the right balance between quality, safety and confidentiality issues and maintaining sufficiently low barriers for innovation. Indeed, this is a dynamic market where we need to support European SMEs and start-ups.
In this context, the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing plays a defining role in pushing for innovative solutions from idea to market, and to deployment across Europe. The Partnership is bringing new solutions to practice, helping millions of EU citizens to continue to lead healthy, active and independent lives as they grow older.
The Partnership is also contributing to the sustainability of our health and social care systems. It is creating new opportunities for businesses in eHealth and the broader silver economy. It is the right momentum and scale-up such innovative approaches to serving citizens in ever greater numbers.
To succeed we need to exploit and incorporate technological developments into our healthcare systems and improve their interoperability. I am keen to ensure that the Commission is monitoring the functioning of health systems in the Member States including the implementation of eHealth applications. This will enable us to identify and – where appropriate – recommend actions.
I also believe that thanks to eHealth there is a scope to further integrate primary and secondary care in securing early diagnosis and timely treatment. Health promotion through eHealth tools offers a cheaper solution to prevent or to manage chronic diseases.
Already, in many parts of Europe, diabetic patients are monitoring their blood sugar, transmitting the information electronically to their doctors. The care for their condition is ensured with less effort and at a lower cost.
We at the Commission are convinced of the benefits of eHealth. We are already providing funding opportunities under Horizon 2020 to support research, innovation and cooperation. It also includes targeted measures to support innovative SMEs. With the establishment of the eHealth Network, Member State authorities can take the lead in Europe’s activities on eHealth. I have no doubt that the eHealth Network will continue fulfilling its mission to the maximum.
It has already adopted the Patient Summary guidelines to provide continuity of care and patient safety across borders, and the Guidelines on ePrescription to facilitate the interoperability of electronic prescriptions between Member States.
This is a critical step forward – patients will benefit from an electronically processed prescription and get the medicine they need when travelling within the EU. A new Joint Action on eHealth – funded by the EU Health Programme – will be launched to provide technical and scientific support to the eHealth Network.
Last but not least, the Commission has launched the new Digital Single Market Strategy.
This Strategy includes a set of key actions which will be taken at EU level in the coming years to complete the Digital Single Market.
Some of these actions, such as reinforcing trust and security in the handling of personal data; actions related to interoperability and standardisation; and supporting an inclusive eSociety, are of particular relevance for eHealth.
I am no techie but it is clear to me that we must seize the Digital Single market opportunities to fulfil a vision for healthcare in the 21st century – a vision of a single, universally accessible, sustainable and high quality, eHealth single market for the benefit of all European citizens and healthcare professionals.
By coming together and by sharing experiences in the Member States and at EU level, we will drive forward the case for eHealth.
This is a speech from eHealth week in May 2015, taken from European Commission website and republished with the permission of the Commission – http://ec.europa.eu/commission/2014-2019/andriukaitis/announcements/speech-ehealth-week-riga-2015-0_en .