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It's time healthcare embraced the digital revolution
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by Neelie Kroes, European Commission Vice President for the Digital Agenda and Tonio Borg, European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy

Part of what makes us European is that we believe we owe it to our citizens to offer everyone the best possible healthcare. 

In Europe today, we are facing a dilemma: healthcare costs are rising as the public sector faces a spending squeeze. Many older people hold fears over how they will be cared for – while the younger generation worry how they will be able to afford it.

    Commissioner Neelie Kroes

    Commissioner Neelie Kroes

    European healthcare has come a long way. There is near universal access to quality care; advances in medicine have translated into cure and care for previously incurable diseases, scientific progress and organised vaccinations have virtually eradicated many diseases; and our citizens are enjoying longer lives.

    But fundamentally Europe's health systems were designed to deal with a model of acute care, based around emergency care and surgery with stays in hospitals.

    These days, however, many health conditions are long-term and degenerative. People increasingly suffer from one or various chronic diseases. That trend will continue as our population gets older. People with that kind of condition don't always need the same pattern of care. And they prefer to live independently at home, and avoid constant, time-consuming trips to see the doctor.

    So we have to adapt, and digital technology is there to help us change. Whether it's remote monitoring devices that measure and monitor your condition at home and report the results to the hospital; or telemedicine solutions that enable you to access specialist medical advice without travelling; or robots to help around the house, or simply mobile apps that empower you to take control of your own healthcare. It's not science fiction: the solutions already exist, and many of them are made in Europe. They can provide better care, to more people, and free up human resources at hospitals. In the long term they can also translate into better prices, greater efficiency in health systems and build an industry for the future.

    But there is a leadership gap between "eHealth" technology and patients.  The sector has been hesitant to embrace the digital revolution, preferring to stick to traditional methods and models. Politicians have preferred not to upset a system that has worked well in the past.

    A new European eHealth Action Plan launched on 6 December sets out how we can bring digital benefits to healthcare; so as to provide better healthcare to our citizens. The slogan is lifting barriers to smarter, safer, patient-centred health services.

    And what that means is giving patients and healthcare workers the skills and confidence to use new technology. It means linking up devices so they can talk to each other, to avoid waste and repetition; investing in research into tomorrow's personalised medicine, raising awareness and building trust on the advantages of using eHealth for patients, for health professionals, and for health systems.. Giving small businesses the support to supply the innovations we need.

    As more and more people start to use apps and other devices to take control of their own health information, we must ensure their confidence and trust: by clarifying legal uncertainties over safety, quality and transparency.

    But above all, it means biting the bullet and committing to change.  It's starting to happen. All Member States have joined up a fully voluntary eHealth Network to agree upon interoperability guidelines to facilitate the uptake of eHealth in cross border healthcare.

    Our European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing, 3000 stakeholders have committed to improve people's quality of life, in total directly benefiting 4 million Europeans. This is a useful combination of grassroots and EU action.  All of these stakeholders realise that working together is better and cheaper than starting from scratch – bringing them together is the EU role. And this grassroots approach means we can learn and grow quicker than waiting for groups of countries to move forward en bloc.

    We believe that by working together with eHealth technology we can build better lives.


    Last update: 13/12/2012  |Top