European Commission Signs eHealth Agreement with US Department of Health

Vice-President of the European Commission Neelie Kroes and United States Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius signed a Memorandum of Understanding in Washington to promote a common approach on the interoperability of electronic health records and on education programmes for information technology and health professionals. Common standards and interoperability stand to create huge growth opportunities for the eHealth industry as well as having a positive impact on the safety and quality of care. A skilled health IT workforce is necessary to make the benefits of eHealth services available to patients. This agreement aims to boost the potential of the eHealth market for EU companies wishing to do business in the US and vice versa. Promoting the use of eHealth technologies, with a view to improving the quality of health care, reducing medical costs and fostering independent living, including in remote places, is key objective of the Digital Agenda for Europe.

Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission for the Digital Agenda, said: "Nothing makes more of a difference to people's lives than good health. I warmly welcome today's agreement. It is an excellent basis for the Commission and the US authorities to expand our cooperation on promoting the overall benefits of eHealth for patients, health systems and companies."

During her visit to the Transatlantic Economic Council in Washington, Neelie Kroes and US Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sibelius signed the eHealth Memorandum of Understanding to promote cooperation on eHealth between the European Commission and the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

The aim of the Memorandum of Understanding is to create new markets and growth opportunities for industry in the eHealth sector in both the EU and the US. The ICT sector drives 50% of productivity growth in the EU and eHealth has a great potential for market growth. It can stimulate innovation in healthcare systems and traditionally strong healthcare industries such as pharmaceuticals and medical devices.

The take up in the US of electronic health records outside hospitals is four times lower than in Europe. In the coming years, the US will invest around $20 billion in deploying interoperable health records to physicians. This could have a positive impact on procurement for European companies in the US as well as boosting the Single Market for eHealth in the EU. This will give patients better health and quality of life and improve the existing infrastructure of health care systems.

The Memorandum stresses the need for a joint vision on internationally recognised and utilised interoperability standards for electronic health record systems and increased competences and mobility of IT professionals. Such common standards are important to achieve widespread interoperable eHealth services so that eHealth can reach its full global market potential.

Potential activities foreseen within the framework of the Memorandum include the following:

  • exchanges of information on ongoing activities that are carried out directly by the Commission and HHS, and that are relevant to the promotion of eHealth
  • exchanges of delegations and specialists, selected with the endorsement of the Commission and HHS, for example in the framework of the Commission's eHealth Governance Initiative
  • establishment of joint working groups to identify specific strategies for achieving shared goals, and
  • collaboratively organised meetings, scientific conferences, workshops and/or symposia.

The partnership between the EU and the US, the two world leaders in eHealth, sends a strong signal to all stakeholders that common standards and interoperability bring opportunities for a global approach for the benefit of patients, health systems and the market.

The Transatlantic Economic Council is a political body that oversees and accelerates government-to-government cooperation to advance economic integration between the EU and the US. Main issues at this year's conference include the signing of the Memorandum on eHealth, discussing possibilities to stimulate more cooperation on research and identifying how synergies could be created between the Digital Agenda for Europe and US policies in this field.

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