EU: how is digitization transforming health systems?

The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in dramatic advances in vaccine technology. But she also highlighted the importance of sharing information.

The exchange and access to clinical information can be decisive in ensuring the necessary care for patients. Also, digitization and data sharing have become essential tools for public health systems.

This is the direction the European Union is taking. She just started European Health Data Area which will be rolled out over the next few years. But what is it exactly?

The beginning of the European digital health era

It is an interconnected database that aims to facilitate access to patient health information and ensure continuity of care, even when traveling to another European country.

The exchange of information is at the heart of the European Health Data Area and is governed by existing national and European legislation.

This shared data space will allow more efficient patient care and better diagnostic capacity. It will also help scientific research and European companies to develop tailor-made health treatments, devices and services.

Finally, data sharing will help develop more effective health policies.

Based on the existing directive on cross-border healthcare, Member States collaborate through a network of volunteers bringing together national authorities responsible for e-health. The Commission has put in place the infrastructure MyHealth@EU to facilitate the cross-border exchange of health data.

The example of Portugal

Over the past two years, the digitization of health systems has accelerated in several countries of the European Union.

In this area, Portugal is a leader. The Portuguese Ministry of Health has appointed an IT authority to carry out the digital transition.

“With digital data, what we want is for the data collected to serve the whole system, thus generating information that feeds this device. This happens at different levels in Portugal; today, we have clinical data from medical information related to each user,” Explain Luis Filipe Goes Pinheiro, chairman of the board of directors of SPMS.

Portugal has virtually abandoned paper prescriptions. Now, about 98% of hospitals nationwide provide digital prescriptions.

Medical records are stored online. Patients can access their health information via a website and a smartphone application where they can also benefit from teleconsultations with a doctor.

The same application also allows patients to contact the ministry’s contact center for general questions. In addition to Portuguese, responses can also be given in English and sign language. Since the beginning of the year, more than 4.5 million Portuguese have already contacted the service.

Artificial intelligence also uses data sharing to help healthcare professionals in operations such as triaging patients and prescribing treatments.

“We help both doctors and users in decision-making regarding the pathologies they may have and which can be more easily detected thanks to these artificial intelligence mechanisms,” says Pedro Marques, SPMS Data Management Coordinator.

Germany’s progress in digital health

In Germany, digital health has made significant progress through an app system called DiGA (digital health applications).

In a medical practice in Bottrop, in the north-west of the country, doctors prescribe applications to their patients as they would with medication.

Users can download them to their smartphone, tablet or computer. The cost of the application is even reimbursed by German social security.

These apps cover illnesses and health issues ranging from cancer and cardiovascular disease to chronic migraines and depression.

“There are concrete examples of the use of these applications such as for migraines, weight loss or tinnitus, we can benefit from support outside the practitioner’s office. We can receive documentation, but also help when the health problem worsens so that the patient is not left alone,” explains Sami Gaber, a doctor at the Gaber Medical Center.

The creation of a European health data space marks a revolution in the field of medicine and opens a new era of cooperation. EU member countries are now working on common rules to ensure that this data is shared securely.

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EU: how is digitization transforming health systems?

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