EU calls for greater take-up of e-health technology

28 Apr 2008

About 70pc of European doctors use the internet and 66pc use computers for consultations, a new survey by the European Commission has found. However, higher-end e-health applications such as telemonitoring and e-prescriptions are rare in Europe.

The ‘Benchmarking ICT use among General Practitioners in Europe’ survey found that e-health applications are increasingly being used by GPs across Europe. Some 87pc of doctors use a computer and 48pc have a broadband connection. The survey noted a trend for European doctors to increasingly store and send patients’ data, such as lab reports, electronically.

The survey also showed wide disparities across countries: Denmark had the highest broadband penetration among GPs at 91pc, while Romania had the lowest at 5pc. Ireland’s broadband penetration rate for GPs was 44.3pc, below the EU average of 47.9pc.

The survey shows that the countries most advanced in ICT access and connectivity are more likely to use these for professional purposes. Denmark, where high-speed internet is the most widely available in Europe, sees extensive use of email communication between doctors and patients in about 60pc of practices (the EU average is only 4pc).

“Europe is starting to reap the benefits of broadband connections in the e-health sector. I welcome the efforts made by healthcare administrations and doctors to work more efficiently,” said Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media. “This diagnosis also shows that it is now time to use these electronic services much more widely as they have the potential to bring extraordinary benefits to all patients, all over Europe.”

The survey highlights areas for improvement and further deployment, such as electronic prescriptions (e-prescribing), which is practiced by only 6pc of EU GPs. This is widely used in only three member states: Denmark (97pc), the Netherlands (71pc) and Sweden (81pc).

Telemonitoring, which allows doctors to monitor a patient’s illness or manage chronic diseases remotely, is only used in Sweden (where 9pc of doctors provide telemonitoring services), the Netherlands and Iceland (both about 3pc). The Commission will report later this year on the potential and development of telemedicine.

Exchange of patient data across borders is also rare, done by only 1pc of the EU’s GPs, with doctors in the Netherlands being most likely to do this at 5pc. This year the Commission plans to make recommendations on cross-border interoperability of electronic health record systems and will launch, with several countries, a project on cross-border e-health services for patients travelling within the EU.

By Niall Byrne