Health Policy

Europe aims for interoperable EHRs by 2015

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The European Commission has published new draft of interoperability guidelines setting out a roadmap to achieve interoperable electronic health records across the continent by the middle of the next decade. At the heart of the recommendation is the premise that the basic components needed to support cross-border interoperability also apply to the local, regional and national settings. Enable cross-border interoperable EHRs and you go a long way to enabling EHRs at any level. The Commission argues that the development of interoperable EHRs is a vital step in removing barriers to promoting a single European market including cross-border healthcare, enabling citizens to easily get treatment in any EU state. Interoperable EHRs are also identified as an essential step to the development of a thriving European e-health market. Interoperable EHRs, with appropriate privacy and security protection, are also said to offer significant potential patient safety benefits. The guidelines create a series of steps EU member states will have to follow to ensure that patient records can be accessible in any healthcare setting across Europe, whilst also ensuring privacy and confidentiality. The guidance recognizes that the development of more widely accessible EHRs will create new challenges. “When systems become more interoperable, the need for building safeguards against abuse grows as well.” By providing “basic yet vital patent information from a home doctor and hospital” to authorised clinicians across Europe, citizens will benefit from “improved quality and safety of care,” the recommendation suggests. “It would also make it possible for pharmacies to electronically process prescriptions from other member states, so that patients travelling within the EU or living in another member state can obtain a refill of essential medicine,” it adds. In order to achieve this, the EC is calling on member states to work on three main action points. The recommendation calls on them to establish aspects of electronic health records that should be exchangeable between systems, such as patient summaries, emergency data sets, and medication records facilitating ePrescription. It also says they should enable health data to be shared among different healthcare systems, based on a limited range of applications currently in use in different member states, and build appropriate networked systems and services covering all areas of healthcare, while fulfilling appropriate legal, operational and educational requirements. The document says: “The key objective of this recommendation is to allow patient choice to access his/her important information stored in electronic health record systems anywhere any time.” Though a framework will be created, no specific technical guidelines are given to achieve this, instead the EC calls for member states to begin a dialogue between them all “with a view to developing a process through which the appropriate concrete activities and tasks can be undertaken.” This is particularly the case in situations such as making emergency medical data or patient summaries available to avoid delays in diagnosis or medical errors in treating victims of car or other types of accidents with certain health risk factors such as allergies, genetic disease, or a medical implant such as a pacemaker. Having records available would also help patients who need to refill prescriptions or replace lost medicines, and would ensure the continuity of care, facilitating unscheduled medical encounters and continued treatment afterwards. “Electronic records will be purely voluntary and created only at the citizen’s request, respecting his/her right to privacy. The information contained in the patients’ health record summaries has yet to be agreed upon, but it will include a basic summary of a person’s health such as blood group, known allergies, medical conditions and details of medication the patient may be taking,” the report says. The recommendation is currently only in draft format, and will be presented to the European Parliament later this year. The EC aims to achieve European e-health interoperability throughout the region by the end of 2015. “Carrying paper copies of medical records is neither realistic nor possible at all times. Electronic health records are usually scattered in multiple formats, among diverse information systems at different hospitals or general practitioners’ surgeries, and for some of us even in different countries. “These scattered information systems often cannot ‘talk to each other’: they fail to provide for a comprehensive and integrated view of our medical history. In an emergency, efficient sharing of medical information could save lives,” the document says.

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