At the informal meeting of health ministers in Vienna on 10 and 11 September 2018, the discussion focused in detail on the use of modern electronic communication means in healthcare and investment in digital health. The EU member states agreed to work closely together at EU level to make the existing infrastructure of thousands of health service providers fit for the future.

Group photo informal meeting of health ministers

The host of the meeting, Austrian Federal Minister Beate Hartinger-Klein, emphasised the importance of digitalisation in the healthcare system: "There is no doubt that the provision and use of personal digital health data in diagnostics and therapy in the event of illness is in the public interest".

She stressed that "Every single member of a health profession, whether in medicine or in nursing, is better supported by the use of digital health data: if you know more about the patients to be treated, you can offer them a better diagnosis, therapy or care".

In addition, the provision and use of digital health data is also of enormous importance for research and science. That is one of the main reasons why she, representing Austria, signed the declaration for sharing access to one Million genomes in the EU by 2020.

Supportive

The health ministers and national representatives were unanimously happy that Austria had put eHealth on the agenda, and were generally supportive of further investments at EU and national- regional level and of interoperability of health data. In his conclusions, Director General Roberto Viola (DG Connect, European Commission) repeated that the exchange of Electronic Health Records between institutions and across borders is not about harmonisation but about interoperability.

Viola noted that we are at a paradigm shift from collective to personalised medicine, where the role of data empowered by digital technology will be crucial. "Citizens already have the right to access their own data and move their own data freely based on the GDPR". He underlined that digital care is part of the digital single market strategy and that it's implementation would provide a win-win approach: important savings in healthcare expenditure, better healthcare for patients and opportunities for business.

Not at the beginning

The ministers and representatives realised that due to technical barriers, large parts of the existing digital infrastructure in the healthcare system are not, or only to a very limited extent, suitable for data exchange outside their respective organisations. It is thus necessary to identify concrete steps to be taken in order to overcome these barriers.

"On the positive side we can ascertain that we, as member states of the European Union, are by no means at the beginning in the field of eHealth – or digital health", stressed both the ministers and the representatives of the European institutions.

Working closely together

As a result of the discussions, the EU member states agreed to work closely with the services of the European Commission within the framework of the eHealth Network that is already in place at EU level, in order to develop a guideline for targeted Europe-wide promotion and investment programmes in the eHealth sector. The aim is to make the existing infrastructure of thousands of health service providers fit for the future.