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European Commission
Health and Food Safety Directorate General
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Public Health
Midterm Review of Digital Single Market Strategy includes areas for enhanced action in digital health and care

Today, the Commission publishes the mid-term review of the Digital Single Market (DSM) Strategy. Adopted in 2015, the DSM aims to make the EU's single market freedoms "go digital" and boost growth and jobs in the EU. The review assesses progress towards the implementation of the DSM, identifying where more efforts are needed and where the changing digital landscape calls for new action at the EU level.

Presenting the Communication's health-related findings at the opening of eHealth week in Malta, Vytenis Andriukaitis, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety said: "Digital technology has become part of the fabric of modern society, and the EU must be at the forefront in creating the right conditions for allowing digital developments to flourish. 52% of citizens wish to have electronic access to their health records. We must work harder to make this happen."

Recommendations for digital health and care

In the area of digital health and care, the Communication acknowledges that digital technologies can help improve people’s health and contribute to the sustainability and resilience of Europe's healthcare systems. It points out the necessity for digital tools to be developed with full respect for data protection rules.

Whereas the infrastructure for cross-border exchange of health data should be operational by 2020, the Communication calls on the Commission to intensify efforts to ensure that all citizens can, in full privacy and confidence, access and transfer their complete electronic health record when receiving healthcare abroad.

Regarding big data for health, the Communication highlights the potential of the European Reference Networks, launched in March this year, to pool medical expertise and data for faster diagnosis and treatment of rare and complex diseases. It calls for further EU action in this area to advance research, enable the early detection of infectious outbreaks, accelerate development of medicines and medical devices, and stimulate innovative healthcare solutions such as telemedicine and mobile health applications.

Next steps

The Commission will adopt a Communication in 2017 addressing the need and scope for further measures in the area of digital health and care, in line with legislation on the protection of personal data, patient rights and electronic identification. It will cover, in particular: securing access to and cross-border sharing of electronic health records; supporting data infrastructure to advance research, prevention of diseases and precision medicine; and facilitating feedback and interaction between patients and healthcare providers, to support patient-centred care.

Facts and figures on digital health in the EU

  • The percentage of hospitals exchanging clinical care information about patients electronically with other health care organisations within the same country ranges from 33% to 39%. Exchange with health and care providers in another EU country is only 4%.
  • 52% of citizens wish to have electronic access to their health records, but only 9% of hospitals in Europe allow citizens to access online their own patient records, even partially.
  • Faster diagnosis and more personalised treatment of rare and complex diseases can be achieved if scientific expertise and data are pooled across borders, significantly reducing the 5.6 years on average that it takes currently to diagnose a rare disease in Europe. An estimated 30-40 million Europeans are affected by rare and complex diseases.
  • Faster diagnosis of infectious diseases and more effective response can be achieved if scientific expertise and health data are pooled across borders.
  • Modelling from the World Bank suggests that a 'Spanish-flu-like' outbreak today would kill more than 33 million people in 250 days. And the cost of such a severe outbreak has been estimated at 4.8% of global GDP. Real-time genomic surveillance used at EU level to better understand outbreaks of emerging infectious diseases (and how they spread) will allow for a more effective response across the EU.
  • Europe has the highest burden of chronic diseases which are responsible for 86% of all deaths and 77% of health and long-term care expenditure. But only 18% of European citizens have used online health and care services in the last 12 months.
  • By allowing feedback communication and interaction between users and health care providers, mhealth can improve quality of services and better planning / management by healthcare systems. If widely adopted and integrated in health care systems, annual savings in Europe resulting from use of mobile health applications are estimated at €69 billion.

See also IP/17/1232 and MEMO/17/1233

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