Data sharing will improve the health of EU citizens

ORACLEThe healthcare sector has traditionally been reluctant to invest in information and communications technology, but the EU public policy agenda is now driving major changes to this approach. At a transatlantic eHealth policy workshop, Charles Scatchard, Oracle's EMEA vice president for healthcare and life sciences, outlined how technology can support the transition to modern, information-driven health care.

One of the keys to the future well-being of EU citizens lies in the terabytes of data being gathered today by hospitals, primary care providers and other health care institutions.

Speaking at an EU/US eHealth policy workshop hosted by the European Commission, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service, and the European-American Business Council, Oracle's Charles Scatchard told delegates that by pooling and sharing this data, governments and healthcare providers can ensure better delivery of healthcare. Access to more information delivers benefits at every level: from more informed diagnosis of an individual patient's condition, to the ability to mine population data to track health trends, the spread of infectious diseases, and much more.

Scatchard set out a vision for an IT infrastructure that can support secure and timely access to shared healthcare data at an institutional, regional, national or international level. The infrastructure pulls together five different kinds of eHealth project that are currently being piloted or implemented in Europe and the US. These include a secure networking infrastructure connecting institutions; access to shared systems and data via an internet portal; smartcards containing patient information; a longitudinal (i.e. life-long) electronic health record for each individual patient, and telehealth technologies allowing remote diagnosis and treatment.

This kind of infrastructure is achievable, Scatchard said, and is already proving to deliver significant improvements both in terms of the delivery of healthcare and of cost savings arising from the resulting time and efficiency gains. However, to be workable, an eHealth infrastructure must guarantee data security and privacy; the different systems involved must be interoperable, and all the data must adhere to a common standard to ensure accuracy and interoperability. He stressed that addressing these issues is the responsibility of the IT industry and that the industry is taking them very seriously. Interoperability of legacy systems is at last becoming economically and technologically viable through the use of service-oriented architectures (SOAs), while the worldwide healthcare industry is coalescing around the HL7v3 standard for data sharing.

Scatchard shared some learnings from successful eHealth projects in which Oracle has been involved. He encouraged governments and organisations embarking on such projects to secure the acceptance and buy-in of clinicians, patients and the public at large, and to ensure that projects are consistently funded, communicated and managed. The best projects will be delivered by a clearly-defined consortium of industry players who are all committed to ensuring their success, he said. Meanwhile, governments and healthcare institutions should look at the possibilities for funding eHealth projects at least partially from cost savings achieved from efficiencies in existing systems and processes – another area where the judicious use of IT can help.

Finally, Scatchard reminded delegates of the declaration made by the 27 EU Member States in Berlin in April this year, in which it was stated that the involvement of the IT industry is critical to the success of eHealth initiatives. Oracle, he said, remains committed to working with governments, healthcare providers and other industry players to support the creation and rollout of a viable ICT infrastructure for future improvements to healthcare delivery and to the well-being of the EU population.

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