Digital solutions can make health care easier and more equitable
Andrzej Rys, the European Commission’s Director responsible for health systems, medical products and innovation at the Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety, talks about the benefits and opportunities of digitalisation, as well as its challenges.
Why is investing in digital health important?
Why? Because digital solutions for health and care could truly revolutionise health and care services and have the potential of helping millions of people enjoy better health. Digitalisation helps ensure continuity of care for people travelling across borders, but equally important, it gives all patients the same chance to receive quality care, no matter where they live.
This is the beauty of the European Reference Networks, which allow rare disease patients to get expert advice from specialists all over Europe without having to travel - they can get virtual consultations through an EU-level platform. The knowledge travels, not the patient.
Digitalisation is helping health systems shift from being hospital-centred to being more community-based and integrated. Digital care tools can reduce the need for face-to-face consultations, for example, allowing patients to have routine check-ups at home. Digital tools can also help make better use of health data in research, promoting innovation and developing new therapies.
What is the Commission doing in the area of digital health?
In 2018, the Commission adopted a three-part plan for the digital transformation of health and care in the Digital Single Market. The first pillar of this ‘Communication’ promotes better access to and exchange of citizens' health data. Five Member States, soon seven, started to exchange patients' health data across borders between pharmacies (ePrescriptions) and hospitals for emergency cases (Patient Summaries); 15 others are expected to do so by 2021. And last year, the Commission adopted a Recommendation on a European Health Record Exchange Format to extend the set of data included in the Patient Summaries to include things like tab tests, images and discharge letters.
The second pillar improves the exchange of data for research purposes. The "One Million Genomes Declaration" is a good example, where 21 Member States have committed to building a research cohort of at least one million sequences genomes.
The third pillar encourages more people to make use of digital health technology and aims to increase their digital knowledge and skills. It also seeks to establish common principles to validate and certify health technology and promotes the exchange of best practices.
What’s the future for digital health?
The Commission is working with the Member States to create a European common health data space, to share and give access to data for care and research with full respect of GDPR and under strict security rules. Data will be safely shared, queried and mined by national authorities and different stakeholders for everyone’s benefit. There is huge potential for research in accessing health data, for example, which is currently undermined because of regulatory gaps, lack of interoperability of infrastructures or lack of mutual codes of conducts for the safe exchange of personal data. This is a big challenge, to find the right governance model, infrastructure investments, adequate ethical guidelines and personal data protection measures.
We want everyone to enjoy the benefits of digitalisation, but not at the cost of privacy. That’s why the General Data Protection Regulation is now enforced in all Member States. We are currently looking at how it is being applied in Member States, particularly in the very sensitive area of health.
Activities at EU level
European Commission – Health and Food Safety
European Commission – Communications Networks, Content and Technology
Digital patient summaries providing an overview of patient allergies, current medication and past medical history, such as past surgeries, can now be exchanged between the first two EU countries: Luxembourg or Croatia (incoming travellers) and Czechia (outgoing travellers) for unplanned care (emergencies).
These virtual networks connect healthcare professionals managing patients affected by rare or complex diseases in 25 countries across Europe.
This decision extends the use of the Patient Summaries lab tests, medical discharge reports and images and imaging reports and facilitate the cross-border interoperability of electronic health records.
Signing the declaration commits them to building a research cohort of at least 1 million sequenced genomes accessible in the EU by 2022 (and 10 million genomes by 2025).
The project is part of the Innovative Medicines Initiative’s Big Data for better outcomes Programme and aims at harnessing real world data from patients with blood cancers to gain further insights into disease mechanisms and support the development of improved and more effective treatments.
A call for proposals was launched to support the development of tools and analytics focused on prevention and treatment of cancer, including Artificial Intelligence tools for the analysis of cancer images.
Funded through the Innovative Medicines Initiative, a private-public partnership, ROADMAP aims to integrate real world data on Alzheimer’s disease outcomes from different sources and countries. The 3D Data cube was developed to map all the currently available research data.
Blockchain is a ledger technology, which keeps a final and definite record of data transactions in a decentralised setting, providing traceable and secure exchange of sensitive health data.
Health Programme Projects
The Joint Action eHAction supports the eHealth Network, which, in its Multiannual Work Programme 2018-2021, sets targets for exploring eHealth to facilitate the management of chronic diseases and multi-morbidity.