Member States are directing their health policies to subscribe increasingly to the paradigm of citizen-centred and patient-centred services. This implies several activities that are: to gather, analyse and disseminate relevant quality information for policy-making; support the need to improve patient safety along the full continuum of care; support healthcare professionals in their daily work and provide citizens with tools that enable them to become both well-informed and selfassured patients. All this will be aided by the provision of optimal medical services independent of their location within the European Union.
To achieve this vision, health, social care and other providers must no longer work in isolation, but need to collaborate as a team, if necessary beyond their national and linguistic borders − information and communication technologies can facilitate this co-operation. It is vital that these parties can have access to and share securely up-to-date information on a citizen's health status, data which they can understand and act on. Without an appropriate information and communication technologies-based infrastructure this goal cannot be reached. It is full interoperability that is the key to success.
The main reasons for accelerating the introduction of interoperable eHealth solutions in a collaborative and coordinated way in Europe are the increasing mobility of European citizens, the aging population and the empowerment of citizens, the continuity of care and the creation of a bigger, European-wide market for many health applications and technologies. This will lead to the increased opportunity for provision of new services, new jobs, and new technologies.
Developed with input from both the i2010 sub-group on eHealth1 and the eHealth stakeholders' group, this paper contributes to enhancing the continuum of care and ensuring that the flow of information between primary care (local health centres, general practitioners' offices), secondary care (hospital), and tertiary care (specialised consultative care) is promoted, on behalf of better patient care, safety and quality of life as well as better or new citizen-oriented services. A systemic approach, that establishes a collaborative network among all health professionals and organisations, will be extremely beneficial for achieving the proposed goals.
Health technologies should also be used to reinforce the information tools available to citizens, helping them for example to inform themselves better about health issues, particularly preventative health measures.
The European eHealth Action Plan of April 20042 provides a mid-term roadmap for the development of these interoperable eHealth solutions in and across Member States. To progress towards interconnected and collaborative eHealth services at the regional, national and pan-European level, further concrete and structured steps are needed.
This paper outlines priority issues which must be pursued vigorously in order to reach all of these health systems goals â improve patient safety, encourage well-informed citizens and patients on health matters, and create high-quality health systems and services â and, at the same time, face international competition in the eHealth sector. It focuses on the overriding theme of comprehensive eHealth interoperability: eHealth solutions must be interoperable to facilitate and foster the collaboration of health professionals and health care organisations, and the various stakeholders must cooperate and involve themselves to resolve legal, organisational and policy barriers.
Member States have realised that implementing eHealth interoperability is a long-term process requiring a sustained commitment with respect to political involvement and resources. Achieving interoperability is seen as a goal that can be achieved only gradually â application by application â and is often envisioned in a ten-year, if not longer, framework.
The paper recommends the necessary steps to reach these goals for the benefit of Europe, its citizens and its societies, thereby supporting the long-term objectives of the Lisbon Strategy.3 These cover the domains of political, social, and regulatory issues; appropriate processes and structures to achieve eHealth interoperability; technical standardisation; semantic interoperability; and certification and authentication processes.
The result of this process will be a set of guidelines on eHealth interoperability, as well as an agreed process to implement these guidelines in the various Member States and at the Union level.
For further information, please download the full report here (pdf file, 28 pages, 189 KB).