Clear policies have a positive impact on the spread of eHealth use

At the European eHealth Conference in Slovenia, the European Commission has presented the results of a pan-European survey, showing that European doctors increasingly store and send patients' data such as lab reports electronically. 87% of European general practitioners (GPs) use a computer, 69% are connected to the Internet, and of these 69% with a broadband connection. HealthTech Wire talked to Werner B. Korte, director at the research and consulting firm empirica, about the study results and how general practitioners could make better use of eHealth applications such as telemonitoring, electronic prescriptions and cross-border medical services.

Published: 05/07

- (HealthTech Wire) - Which results of the study did you find most surprising?

Despite the wide availability of a computer and an Internet connection, these are not yet regularly used for patient encounters and paper-based data handling is still prevalent in many GP practices. It is most striking in areas like the transfer of data to reimbursing institutions or medical data transfer to other healthcare providers where the difference between the availability and actual use – the readiness-use gap – amounts to a substantial 54% and 59% respectively. Another striking example is the use of a computer to show patients any health-related information during consultation, which is only practiced by 14% of the GPs in Europe, although 87% could do so. The survey results also contain some good news for European and national policy makers in the eHealth area – in countries with clear policies and strategies, these seem to have had and continue to have a positive impact on the spread of eHealth use.

The study has shown that European doctors often exchange data electronically with laboratories (40%), but less so with other health centres (10%). What is the reason for this?

There seem to be some established approaches to the division of labour between GPs and labs, but not yet with other care providers. However, the survey results also show that Europe is on the right track in this area since, for instance, the share of GPs exchanging medical data with other healthcare providers has increased significantly, tripling from 9% to 27% between 2002 and 2007.

Doctors not using ICT cite a lack of training and technical support as major barriers. How could training and support be improved and how can healthcare IT companies help eliminate these barriers?

The inclusion of eHealth in the curricula of medical education, more IT training for GPs by way of making it part of continuous medical education (CME) and continuous professional development (CPD), and the wider use of clinical information networks by all health actors to share patient data would foster a further spread of eHealth applications. These are seen as the most important measures to be taken and it's a view also shared by most of the GPs surveyed. By assuring seamless interoperability among their various systems, proven by certification, and cooperating towards the development of a single European eHealth market, industry could play a leading role in this process and improve its competitive position globally.

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