New guidance to improve access to telemedicine for EU citizens and healthcare professionals across Europe has been published. The European Commission telemedicine communication aims to increase and broaden telemedicine services, including diagnosis, treatment and monitoring at a distance across Europe. The communication, which has been adopted by the Commission after two years of consultation, sets out ten proposed actions to promote telemedicine, including harmonization of standards and the removal of regulatory and legal barriers. Despite the potential benefits that telemedicine can provide, its use is still limited in most parts of the EU. “Telemedicine can radically improve chronically ill patients’ quality of life and give people access to top medical expertise. It is our duty to make sure patients and health professionals can benefit from it” said Viviane Reding, European Union Commissioner for Information Society and Media. EU Health Commissioner, Androulla Vassilou, commented: “Telemedicine tools can indeed deliver improvements both in quality of care and patient safety as well as increase access to healthcare. This means both better services for citizens, and more innovative and efficient health services”. The communication also aims to promote the development of Europe’s telemedicine industry, already a multi-billion sector globally. It says the European telemedicine industry, especially SMEs, can tap the financial and clinical benefits from this expanding market, provided that barriers to development such as market fragmentation are addressed. Better legal clarity within European countries on telemedicine and between them, are recommended as essential steps to speeding and spreading its adoption. Similarly enabling steps are called for on ensuring a European Union-wide broadband infrastructure and on interoperability of telemedicine devices. Key actions are also proposed on communication to increase the confidence and acceptance of telemedicine services among users. Particular emphasis is given to encouraging provision and dissemination of scientific evidence of its effectiveness and cost effectiveness. The communication defines the necessary steps to be taken by Member States, the European Commission and stakeholders including healthcare providers and the industry. The telemedicine communication is based on an extensive consultation phase during 2007 and 2008 which involved Member States, health professionals, patients associations and industry representatives. It received strong support from all parties.

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