Making personal health data exchange across borders easier

EU countries have already taken the first steps in making patient summaries and e-prescriptions interoperable

Photo: EU Mariya Gabriel

A package of recommendations that will make it possible to exchange health records across borders, which will help citizens to have better health care as they travel around the EU, was presented by the Commission on Wednesday. The idea is that sharing records can provide important health history about a patient in the event of an accident or sickness while on move. Back home, the records of the treatment abroad will be integrated into the existing health “file”. 

The target of the proposed set of recommendations is designing of a European format that will allow electronic health records to be shared in a secure mode accenting on data protection rules. EU countries have already taken the first steps in making patient summaries and e-prescriptions interoperable. The Commission proposes national authorities to extend this work into three new health record areas - laboratory tests, medical discharge reports and images, and imaging reports. The technical specifications that should be used in health record exchanges were also included in the proposal.

With the recommendations, we are trying to make it possible for citizens to access and share a broader set of health data when moving to another country or travelling abroad, said Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis, in charge of Health and Food Safety, who together with Commissioner Mariya Gabriel, in charge of Digital Economy and Society, presented the proposals to the press. He also mentioned that the exchange of health data has already started and - for a month already - Finnish citizens can get their e-prescriptions in Estonia. Over 100 dispensations of medicines which were electronically prescribed in Finland have already taken place in Estonia, and this number is in constant increase, he pointed out.

According to him, being able to securely share medical information with doctors abroad has the potential not only to substantially improve the quality of care citizens receive, but also to have a positive effect on healthcare budgets. It is less likely that expensive medical tests, such as imaging or laboratory analyses, would need to be repeated. The exchange of patient summaries is already possible thanks to the eHealth Digital Service Infrastructure supported with EU funds.

Exchanging health records is good news not only for the citizens but for the health systems also, which will benefit expressly from this move as the new system would enable access to a patient's recent laboratory or radiology tests. A hospital in another EU country will avoid repeating such tests and will save patients' time and money. This will make healthcare systems more efficient as well.

Commenting the recommendations, Commissioner Gabriel said that as part of the efforts to provide EU citizens access to safe and top quality digital services, the initiative will help patients get their treatment wherever they are in the EU, including in emergency situations. If the European citizens can circulate the EU freely, it is clear that their health data must be able to follow them, she explained, adding that the proposed EU framework for an electronic health record exchange will also allow doctors and other medical practitioners to assist citizens more efficiently and effectively.

Commissioner Gabriel also emphasised that the public consultation results on the topic showed clearly that citizens want to be able to control their health records. More than 80% of people that took part in it said that sharing health records could improve treatment and prevent diseases.

Currently there are different standards of health records in the Member States, she asserted, noting that the Commission encourages digitalisation of electronic dossiers in several priority areas, such as patient health records, e-prescriptions, laboratory analysis results, imaging diagnostic results and epicrises.

Indeed, the work in order to build infrastructures for health data exchange is ongoing. The technical specifications have been established on the basis of the work of the e-Health Digital Service Infrastructure, and several services for cross-border health data exchange are currently been deployed under the Connecting Europe Facility Programme.

Besides Estonia and Finland, Luxembourg will soon receive patient summaries from other EU countries, and the Czech Republic will make patient summaries available across the border. Other 18 countries will join these exchanges at a later stage.


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