The 2014 eHealth Forum took place in Athens on 10-12 May, hosted by the Greek Presidency and the European Commission. It provided a chance for European and national eHealth stakeholders to exchange information and receive up-to-date information on progress made both from an economic and a social perspective, under the motto of ’Give Health an eChance’.
In her opening speech, European Commissioner for the Digital Agenda and Commission Vice-President, Neelie Kroes recalled that the very first eHealth conference had taken place in Athens eleven years ago. Since then, many profound changes have occurred, notably in terms of making eHealth a priority item at national and regional level, in the development of new digital solutions and institutions, but also regarding patient empowerment and supporting health. For example, eHealth was a key tool for disease prevention and independent living, as testified by the focus of this year’s eHealth Forum on the work undertaken by the European Innovation Partnership on Healthy and Active Ageing (EIP on AHA), which she stated already had an impact on two million people in Europe.
Moreover, Kroes made a case for eHealth’s value for the economy. For instance, innovative eHealth tools had generated big health system savings in Italy, and the recent introduction of ePrescription in Greece has already produced significant cost savings and reduced health system inefficiencies. She also noted that Greece was a leader in the development of dementia and falls prevention apps, thereby stimulating employment in ICT.
However, ’digital capital’ needed to be further developed and skills and networks required further stimulation. eHealth was an area where people with the right skills could find good jobs. Some of these aspects were also explored in the Commission’s Green Paper consultation on mHealth. Other challenges were related to the applicable legal frameworks for cloud computing and the so-called Internet of Things.
Kroes noted that integrating eHealth devices and tools takes effort and dedication: it is vital that GPs and other health professionals feel the potential of digital technology in their practice. She said that one day, ’waiting rooms’ would be a thing of the past just like roaming charges, which have already been abolished.
In conclusion, Kroes shared her vision of having a ’personal health navigator’, a digital mobile tool that would accompany people and provide relevant information, engage people to remain healthy, and allow data sharing and communication in a cross-border context and in support of healthy living.
European Commissioner for Health, Toni Borg, warned that eHealth must not become a buzzword but needed to be translated into something concrete that can improve daily practice and routines. He also recognised that eHealth was merely’a tool in a toolkit’, alongside many others.
Borg argued that the priority for eHealth must be to improve people’s quality of life, and even simple technologies like sending an SMS could make a difference. That said, mHealth was a particularly promising growth sector that offered people autonomy and control over their health (see EPHA Briefing on mHealth).
The eHealth Network would meet at the Forum to draw up Guidelines for ePrescription (to be adopted later in 2014), something Borg said was particularly important in countries like Greece or Malta with high numbers of tourists. He cited the new Greek system as a good example of international cooperation (Greece and Sweden) in times of crisis.
Finally, Borg announced that the Commission would also release a Communication on good practices and progress made before the summer break, including in the regions. He concluded that eHealth must become the norm rather than the exception soon, which could only happen if the remaining legal and technical challenges were solved.
Overall, the key messages brought forward by the two Commissioners were positive and balanced, focusing on eHealth’s potential for becoming more ’tangible’ and ’applied’ in the sense that it will empower patients and professionals alike. In a separate session on ’eHealth in resource-constrained environments’, EPHA presented the eHealth Stakeholder Group Report on ’Health Inequalities and eHealth’, highlighting the need for contact between patients and health professionals and the importance of using technology in a meaningful way, messages that were also put forward in a [Press Release->6040] to coincide with the opening of 2014 eHealth Week.
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