The study, entitled "Mapping out the obstacles of free movement of electronic health records in the EU in the light of single digital market", shows that both patients and health professionals look forward to the development of eHealth services and the legislation that supports the movement and the safe use of health data.

The study, which was commissioned by the Government Office of Estonia and conducted in cooperation with the Estonian Ministry of Social Affairs, maps the obstacles and facilitators of movement of health data in several EU countries, such as Estonia, Finland, Germany, Poland, Sweden and the UK, as well as across borders. It was funded by the “Operational Programme for Cohesion Policy Funds 2014-2020”.

Electronic Health Records should be shared carefully

According to the report, the main barriers for free movement of health data are not information technology or legislation, but rather so-called soft aspects such as people's attitudes, awareness and cooperation. Overall, the respondents agreed that storing electronic health data is beneficial for enhancing quality of the treatment, preventing health epidemics, and reducing delays, with 75.5%, 63.9%, and 58.9% respectively. However, there were still concerns over appropriate methods taken into place to protect the data, with only 38.4% of respondents thinking that healthcare providers provide effective data security successfully.

The survey also measured the levels of privacy concerns in Member States. It shows that there was a higher preference of storing the data, specifically with granting access to all health professionals. Nevertheless, there is less preference to share the health data with wider audience such as fire personnel and academic researchers even if the data is anonymised.

Different approaches across Europe

Moreover, the study shows that peoples’ attitudes towards data protection and privacy differ greatly across Europe. For example, patients in Estonia, Finland and Sweden are not significantly concerned about the use of their health data, while 20-40% of patients in Poland and Germany consider it an important point of concern and in the UK up to 60%.

Practical recommendations

The key outcome of the report are recommendations to facilitate the movement of electronic health records in the EU. Both, Member States and the EU, have the potential to facilitate movement of health data across the EU. Therefore, the seventeen recommendations in the study have been categorised according to the level they could be accomplished at a national level, at the EU level or both.

Read the full study