Contributed by Bernard GOUGET, SFBC-FESCC representative, FESCC advisory board member
Promoting the use of information technologies in health care is one of the defined priorities in the European countries. Interoperability is a key factor for European cooperation in the health sector, which connected to e-health, means a working and secure data exchange. There are still technical aspects to be solved, particularly in regards to information exchange protocols, organisational aspects to enable the transfer of data, and the compatibility of different systems. But, it is not possible to reduce interoperability to simply technical questions or standards. Interoperability has to be provided in many different areas and in some works at the early stages. Examples are: legal questions, data protection, different social security systems, semantic, language diversity, different documentation approaches, data and indicators, and training of health professionals.
Close cooperation and interoperability at the European level was the target of the four e-health conference hosted last May in Malaga (Spain). This conference was a high level meeting where the responsible parties for the European e-health policies and the experts in the application of information technologies in the health field converged to brainstorm e-health, how it is working through Europe and the areas that are going to be improved. At this event, organized by the Spanish Ministry of Health and Consumer Affairs, the Health Ministry of Andalusia regional government, the European Commission and the Austrian Presidency of the Union, experts examined new perspectives on the use of information and communication technologies to health related issues. The mains issues on the agenda were: the electronic health record, the electronic prescription, the exchange of clinical information among the different health care providers, centres and regions within the national health care systems, and new mobile information platforms related to health. For instance, the health insurance card (e-card) moved the health care system of different EU member states into a new e-health dimension. The e-card is the basis for next steps of e-health implementations. High on the list of priorities are the technical aspects of applications used in the hospitals, health centres, pharmacies and laboratories across Europe, taking into account the need to build seamless informational networks across borders in regions and countries. Accessibility from any point of the system, interoperability, compatibility with the various national health systems and adequate promotion of health information are particular relevant within the European framework. The technology itself contribute to improve health policies in general by applying it, for instance, to systems that can help to stop smoking, maintain a healthier diet or that can help implement prevention campaign or to track vital statistics. They are already many systems available that allow the citizen and the patient to monitor blood pressure, blood sugar levels through mobile phones or others devices. As the life expectancy in Europe increases, it is necessary to look at different ways to offer new and more flexible devices to meet the needs of the ageing population. In order to learn best practice from each other, international efforts in implementing national health information can offer opportunities for improving security and patient safety. We have to assign the same names to the same things across all the different systems developing in Europe. We need to eliminate the current barriers so that information can flow and be exchanged throughout the regions and health systems across Europe.
It is a high priority for the health professionals and citizens to encourage the use of e-health using technological instruments, making information available via health portals and labeled internet websites related to health issues, free resources and others services and resources. We also need to think about how to integrate and help new EU member countries and candidate countries to improve their overall situation. Considering the new ethical issues that will arise from the sudden and massive use of technologies inside and outside the hospital environment, we have a very important role to play in terms of defining the strategies for digital health service provision.