Today e-health has emerged as a concrete pathway to help tackle one of the greatest challenges of contemporary Europe: creating health systems that are sustainable and inclusive. The European Health Forum Gastein (EHFG), which is taking place in Bad Hofgastein from 4-6 October 2017, is a splendid opportunity to highlight this potential in all politics.
Not too long ago, e-health was no more than a concept that offered a promising glimpse of what the future of healthcare might look like. Today e-health has emerged as a concrete pathway to help tackle one of the greatest challenges of contemporary Europe: creating health systems that are sustainable and inclusive, with the potential to function as the cornerstone of flourishing economies.
The twentieth anniversary conference of the European Health Forum Gastein (EHFG), which will gather policy makers, researchers, as well as representatives from industry and civil society in Bad Hofgastein from 4-6 October 2017, is a splendid opportunity to highlight the potential of e-health in all politics.
The theme of the EHFG 2017 – “Health in All Politics” – underscores the need to build bridges between health and all other areas of political and societal action and debate. to break silos, and to increase awareness of the interconnectedness of every choice we make, as policy makers, but also as citizens.
Amid the challenges posed by ageing populations requiring more healthcare resources, e-health can be a powerful tool in facilitating these goals. With the help of e-health, policy makers now have the possibility to cater to population, but also to individual citizens’ needs, and directly cater to individual needs.
E-health provides a pathway for improving access to medicines and care, for reducing wasteful spending, and improving the quality of overall care. E-health also allows for effective disease monitoring and, consequently, prevention.
This year’s EHFG will provide a forum to address some of the challenges we face. I am referring in particular to cyber security, and the importance of striking a balance between the opportunities offered by e-health and free flowing data on the one hand, and ensuring patient safety and privacy on the other.
We also need to ensure the interoperability of systems and overcome the existing barriers between jurisdictions. Finally, we need to address scepticism among citizens and patients about what e-health can do for them.
The horizontal nature of these challenges requires an “all-politics” approach. We have every reason to be optimistic in this regard. The European Commission has been taking initiatives on e-health and digital health as part of its Digital Single Market Strategy.
In July 2017, it launched a consultation, which is still underway, to define the need and scope of policy measures that will promote digital innovation in improving people’s health, and address systemic challenges to health and care systems. And as co-chair of the e-health Network, I have seen the commitment of EU Member States to cooperate on boosting e-health.
For instance, in 2016, 20 Member States decided to set up e-Health National Contact Points, to facilitate cross-border data exchange. E-health is also one of the priorities of the Estonian Presidency of the European Union (July-December 2017), and I am looking forward to the outcomes of its high-level conference, shortly after the EHFG in October.
Healthcare systems are increasingly counting on technology to help them meet the needs of Europe’s citizens. We need a “Health in All-Politics”-encompassing strategy to make effective use of the e-health structures and tools, and to make Europe’s healthcare systems work better for patients, in a sustainable manner. I look forward to discussing these important issues at the EHFG.
 The European Commission’s mHealth Green Paper consultation (2014) indicated that Europeans often lack trust in mobile health applications
Picture credits: BEV Norton