Petronille Bogaert, Robine Jean Marie, and Prof. Dr. Herman Van Oyen discuss the BRIDGE Health project and how it is developing an integrated and sustainable EU health information system
Bridge Health is a European project under the third European Union (EU) Health Programme. The acronym stands for Bridging Information and Data Generation for Evidence-based health policy and research. One of its major tasks is to prepare a comprehensive, integrated and sustainable EU health information system which will incorporate know-how and technical tools to coordinate and harmonise research and surveillance for Member States in key EU health policy areas.
Why do we need an EU health information system?
European countries are struggling with common challenges, such as providing care to ageing populations with rising occurrences of chronic diseases and multi-morbidity that are largely, but not exclusively, associated with unhealthy lifestyles. At the same time, each country has to maintain excellent health care systems. Health care costs are generally rising, partly because of demographic pressures, but also due to costly innovations in healthcare. Moreover, resources available to Member States’ health systems are diminishing due to the current economic situation. Scientific evidence from sound data and information, and relevant research are needed to address these common challenges through evidence-based policy making. Only a system operating at European level will be able to deliver comparable information on health and disease patterns, health service use and outcomes, and trends across Europe. An EU health information system is therefore a prerequisite to tackle these common challenges effectively
What are the benefits of an EU health information system?
Working with an EU-wide health information system supports sharing comparable information on population health and health systems across Europe. This would allow Member States to have a precise picture of the situation in their country and compare their outcomes to other Member States. At EU level, a unified general picture of the public health situation in Europe can be generated.
Before comparison and benchmarking can be possible, data needs to be harmonised and a single methodological approach to data collection needs to be developed and supported for better data quality. An EU health information system can provide the framework for that and involve key stakeholders at Member States and EU level, such as public health institutes. It can facilitate the exchange of data and ensure the sustainability of data collection and availability of data for evidence-based policy making.
Fostering EU-wide cooperation also allows for an exchange of expertise and capacity building, through strong health information networks Member States can learn from each other. Simultaneously, such an approach can address health information inequalities in Member States and the EU. Having the appropriate tools and knowledge allows policymakers to respond effectively to population health and health systems’ challenges and to evaluate policy measures.
But most importantly, what the EU needs today is a coherent health information strategy which would guide and coordinate EU action in public health and across policy areas in the coming decades. Currently, variety of EU institutions perform activities in health information. It is not clear which institutions are involved in which activities and how those activities are distributed. A holistic approach is lacking. An overarching EU health information system can coordinate activities and provide a link between institutions and projects. It can centralise discussions and overcome silo mentalities which the current European Commission (EC) is trying to overcome.
What is the political context?
Discussions on the creation of a health information system at EU level have a long history. Some Member States have called for a new agency to be created or to extend the mandate of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) to include health information. The Council of the EU conclusions of December 2013 invited the EC and Member States “to cooperate with a view to establishing a sustainable and integrated EU health information system […] built on what has already been achieved through different groups and projects […] exploring in particular the potential of a comprehensive health information research infrastructure consortium (ERIC) as a tool”. However, the EU and its Member States still fail at putting it into place. Nonetheless, investments have been made in the past 20 years through EU projects of the health programme. Although the project-driven approach is fragmented, it has led to success stories in the development of common, harmonised EU instruments such as health indicators, and health interview and examination tools.
What is BRIDGE Health doing?
BRIDGE Health is working towards an EU health information system. It coordinates and converges the best of EU projects in domains of population and health system monitoring, indicator development, health examination surveys, environment and health, population injury and disease registries, clinical and administrative health data collection systems and methods of health systems monitoring and evaluation. It builds on existing knowledge and expertise to work through horizontal activities with the following objectives:
- Enhance the transferability of health information and data for policy and improve the utility and use of data and indicators for stakeholders in policy making, public health surveillance and health care;
- Reduce health information inequality within the EU and within Member States;
- Develop a blueprint for a sustainable and integrated EU Health information system by developing common methods for:
– Standardisation of health information gathering and exchange between population health and health systems information within and between Member States;
– Standardisation of data quality assurance systems;
– Health information priority settings; and
– Harmonisation of ethical-legal issues.
The horizontal activities will provide the building blocks for the EU health information system. In May 2016
BRIDGE Health will present a policy paper which can serve as a draft agreement between Member States, candidate and EEA/EFTA countries and international organisations for the construction of an EU health information system. The policy paper will include the scope, tasks, activities and governance structure of a future EU health information system. It will present the strengths and limitations of a set of possible structural and institutional options to allow an informed decision by the stakeholders.
Scientific Institute of Public Health
Robine Jean Marie
EPHE, Paris & Montpellier
Prof. Dr. Herman Van Oyen MD, DrPH, MPH, DTM&H
Public Health and Surveillance
Scientific Institute of Public Health
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