Above and beyond the highly technical and political aspects involved with implementing the interoperability of eHealth systems in Europe, the European Union works on a daily basis to roll it out in the Member States, by taking concrete action and funding research programmes. An interview with Gerald Cultot from the European Commission.
At the European Commission you are in charge of developing the interoperability of eHealth systems in Europe. What exactly does this involve?
I work in the unit responsible for eHealth, wellbeing and ageing in DG CONNECT, the Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology (opens in a new window). Our DG has multiple missions. The role of my unit includes supporting research, development and innovation in eHealth, adopting and developing the interoperability of information systems, promoting these eHealth activities to achieve widespread deployment, and finally discussing policy and international cooperation with our partners in Europe and further afield.
In fact, the majority of our activity is included in the “ eHealth Action Plan 2012-2020 – Innovative healthcare for the 21st century (opens in a new window)”, in which we set out details of our vision and strategy. Overall, I’d say that our main challenge is to help implement greater interoperability of European eHealth systems.
What action is the European Commission taking to increase the prevalence of interoperability at European level?
All healthcare matters fall under the jurisdiction of the Member States. Our mission is, above all, to support innovation and the deployment of interoperability, mainly by funding research programmes. For example, in 2015 we launched a call for Member States as part of the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF).
The idea is to facilitate the monitoring of European patients by making it possible for Member States to exchange medical data (prescriptions and medical records). Once we have evaluated the proposals submitted by the Member States, we will fund the best of them so that these new services can be set up by 2018. Feedback from the Member States is very encouraging: many of them have come forward, which goes to show that there is a real political appetite to establish interoperability for these services at European level.
What other projects for rolling out interoperability are you supporting?
Our work is to provide support and coordination, and so until the end of the year, we will be subsidising the implementation of a “scheme to evaluate compliance with healthcare standards”, which is designed to approve innovative healthcare solutions and ensure that they are actually interoperable and that they comply with certain standards of interoperability.
Our objective is to fund this scheme and, therefore, to offer a dual benefit to both those who buy and those who provide healthcare solutions. The former will have a guarantee of the quality of the solutions in which they are investing and the latter will be able to claim that their solutions have been evaluated by a laboratory.
What is more, in 2017 we will be taking an unprecedented approach to innovation: this time we want to fund the public purchasers, eg the hospitals, hospital clusters and Member States who intend to invest in eHealth solutions. We will be offering to cover up to 35% of their costs, and the primary requirement in return will be that they comply with the main standards of interoperability. There are so many concrete measures which, little by little, will mean that we can open the door to interoperability in Europe.
[Special Edition] Interoperability: when eHealth crosses European borders
At a time when healthcare data is becoming increasingly digital and people are able to move freely between the Member States of the European Union, the interoperability of healthcare systems is a critical issue for tomorrow’s Europe.