eHealth Initiatives to Support Medical Assistance While Travelling and Living Abroad

The European Commission today launched two initiatives to improve the safety and quality of care to people who require medical assistance while travelling or living abroad: a Recommendation on cross-border interoperability of electronic health record (EHR) systems and the Smart Open Services (SOS) project. The Recommendation aims to provide Member States with basic principles and guidelines for ensuring that doctors can gain access to vital information on patients that they are trying to treat, wherever such information may be located in Europe. The SOS project, co-funded by the European Commission, is supported by 12 Member States and their industry players, to demonstrate the benefits of such interoperability. It will enable health professionals to access specific medical data such as current medications of patients from other EU countries. In an emergency, sharing of medical information could save many patients' lives.

"Travelling around the European Union is taken for granted, until something goes wrong," said Viviane Reding, the EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media. "This is why the EU's initiatives on eHealth intend to remove linguistic administrative and technical barriers, by making it easier for people to receive treatment even when they are away from their home country. I expect our recommendation and the SOS project to make an important contribution to saving patients' lives in emergencies."

The SOS project will receive over €22 million in funding in the next 3 years, €11 million of which is covered by the European Commission's Competitiveness and Innovation Programme (CIP). The project is a first step in addressing problems faced by doctors with patients who seek health treatment when abroad. These problems include resupplying essential medication that a patient has lost, communicating medical situations to foreign-language doctors, diagnosing illness and prescribing proper medication with little knowledge of patient history. While several Member States have already developed electronic health records, many such (national) systems cannot communicate with each other.

The new project will strive to ensure compatibility of electronic medical information regardless of language or sophistication of technology, without having to establish a common system throughout Europe. This will allow health professionals to electronically access the data of a patient from another country, in their own language, using different technologies and systems. It will also make it possible for pharmacies to electronically process prescriptions from other Member States, so that patients travelling within the EU can obtain the correct essential medicine.

The SOS project builds on national initiatives with the direct participation of Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Denmark, France, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Slovakia, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Electronic records will be purely voluntary, and created only at the citizen's request, respecting his/her right to privacy. The information contained in these health records has yet to be agreed upon, but it will include a summary of essential information such as blood group, known allergies, medical conditions and details of medication the patient may be taking.

The Recommendation on cross-border interoperability of electronic health record (EHR) systems is the first Community document to comprehensively address the steps that Member States should take to establish an EHR system compatible with those in other Member States. The key objective is to allow patient choice to access his/her important information stored in electronic health record systems anywhere at any time. The SOS project will validate and update this Recommendation with further experiences and concrete lessons learned.

These eHealth initiatives are part of the Renewed Social Agenda (IP/08/1070).

Background:
The EU's Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP) aims to encourage the competitiveness of European enterprises. Part of CIP, the ICT policy support programme focuses on stimulating innovation and competitiveness through the wider take-up and best use of Information and Communication Technologies by citizens, businesses and governments, and it is this that supports the SOS Project.

The SOS project is classified as a Large Scale Pilot (LSP): driven by participating countries it focuses on enabling the cross-border provision of ICT-based services that are already operational at national, regional or local level. LSPs build on these services to find common specifications which can then be further developed to gain wider agreement. This will enable different national systems to communicate and interact with each other so that citizens and businesses can enjoy the full benefits of the single market.

The results of this e-Health LSP will be disseminated to the wider European healthcare community via the CALLIOPE network (Call for Interoperable eHealth services in Europe) so that other Member States can participate.

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