From the Mediterranean into the Baltic Sea - the 2017 European Digital Health Journey

Posted on: 12.07.2017

Malta focused on four main health policies throughout it’s presidency, which included Childhood Obesity, Structured Co-operation between Health Systems, HIV Prevention and Data for Health. The last topic is the one which is closest to our community and on which the Digital Health Community has worked on in the past six months, with the culminating event taking place at eHealth Week last May.

Estonian Presidency Priorities

Now it's time for Digital Health to shine further more with an Estonian Presidency that is geared to put innovation in top gear. In the latest ECHAlliance Webinar Ain Avikasoo delightfully explained Estonia's vision for Digital Health in Europe. In fact they have two main focus areas:

  • The right of citizens to control the processing of their health data comfortably and electronically should be realised in practice
  • Wider use of Health Data for research and Innovation

What an intricate and practical combination! I would daresay that the Digital Health community is somewhat lucky to have a European Council Presidency focused on creating a measurable impact. Whilst listening intently to what the Secretary had to say, I was somewhat struck by the statement that healthcare should be seen as an asset and not just simply as a cost item for public budgets. I have personally always envisioned a future where I’m in full control of my health data, and this is somewhat resonating with what the Estonian Presidency wants to deliver. The Estonians lead through example, by allowing citizens to be truly in control of their health and the data is supported by public infrastructure.

Why is Digital Health so important?

Why bother? 76% of Europeans have access to fast internet and 52% of Europeans want access to their health data (Eurostat). Then you would answer back, how many would be willing to share their data? It’s a healthy 76% and even if it was in a minority, the public authorities need to inevitably consider them, the same way they consider other minorities.

There are a number of challenges ahead, for us to move forward and embrace this vision. First of all, Member states need to be equipped with the necessary tools to do the shift from legacy systems to secure and audited systems. Secondly, member states need to work hand in hand and collaborate together and pool resources, especially in certain countries where human resources are a challenge. Coming from a small island myself, I get to face this challenge on a day-to-day basis. Estonia in that regard is inspirational and I can’t wait to be at the upcoming eHealth Tallinn Conference (#eHealthTallinn).

Good luck Estonia! But rather than good luck I wish you perseverance to bring forward the vision of a Digital Health Europe offering interconnected, preventive and innovative care through the use of digital technologies.

Sources:

Stefan Buttigieg

Stefan Buttigieg

Specialist Trainee in Public Health Medicine, Malta