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News :: Better health treatment for travellers and expats in the EU

eHealth initiatives to support medical assistance while travelling and living abroad

(02/07/2008) The European Commission today launched two initiatives to improve the safety and quality of care to people who require medical assistance while travelling or living abroad: a Recommendation on cross-border interoperability of electronic health record (EHR) systems and the european patient Smart Open Services (epSOS) project.

In an emergency, efficient sharing of medical information could save lives

More and more Europeans travel and live outside of their home region and country for holidays, temporary or permanent work, and studies.

This mobility is taken for granted, until something goes wrong. The problems faced by patients and doctors involved in health treatment abroad include losing essential medication, communicating medical situations to foreign doctors, diagnosing illness and prescribing proper medication with little knowledge of patient history.

Carrying paper copies of medical records is neither realistic nor possible at all times. Electronic health records are usually scattered in multiple formats, among diverse information systems at different hospitals or general practitioners' surgeries, and for some of us even in different countries. These scattered information systems often cannot 'talk to each other': they fail to provide for a comprehensive and integrated view of our medical history.

Making sure electronic health record systems can 'interoperate' (talk to each other) could allow health professionals from another country to quickly access basic yet vital patient information, from our home doctor and hospital, in their own language, thus improving the quality and safety of care. It would also make it possible for pharmacies to electronically process prescriptions from other Member States, so that patients travelling within the EU or living in another Member State can obtain a refill of essential medicine.

Setting out guidelines for EU Member States will create a minimum level of steps that will ensure that electronic health record systems can work together across the EU.

While many Member States have already developed electronic health records, many systems cannot communicate with each other. Europe currently has a leading position in the world, with patient data being stored electronically by 80% of all EU-wide primary care physicians.

The benefits could be even more widespread throughout Europe if these systems could work together, making it easier for people to receive treatment even when they are away from their home country.

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Additional Information

See also: DG INFSO ICT for Health Policy