European leaders: 'We have to invest in eHealth today'

By Chip Means
07:10 AM
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Investments in eHealth can improve healthcare efficiency, boost economies and empower patients, said European leaders at the opening of the eHealth Week 2011 and World of Health IT conference in Budapest.

Thought leaders and policymakers spoke from the capital of the current EU presidency with a strong message for Europe's healthcare IT community: The time to act is now.

"We have to invest in eHealth today," said Neelie Kroes, European Commission Vice President for the Digital Agenda, at the May 10 opening of the week-long conference. "At a time when individuals and government need to watch every euro, eHealth can help to improve the efficiency of healthcare systems, boost the economy and empower patients."

eHealth Week 2011 is the largest annual gathering of the European eHealth communities, according to the conference's press materials. This year's conference sees the first-ever delegation of two European Commissioners to the event's activities, emphasizing the EC's increased focus on eHealth initiatives. John Dalli, European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, joins Kroes in this capacity.

[See also: European Commission planning to give patients secure access to digital health records by 2015 .]

"I am confident that the new Directive on patients' rights in crossborder healthcare will make it possible to reap the benefits of eHealth for better access to safe and quality healthcare across the EU," said Dalli.

The European eHealth market is estimated at €15 billion and growing at an annual rate of 2.9 percent, according to the conference's press materials.

"The Hungarian EU Presidency recognizes that eHealth can contribute to a better investment in the health systems of the future and shares the view that the European Union should encourage more innovation in the provision of IT healthcare solutions," said Miklós Szócska, Hungarian Minister of State for Health. "Speeding up the development and spread of eHealth systems will bring the necessary support for future sustainable health systems to promote better Europe competitiveness."

[See also: eHealth Week to honor German, Spanish hospitals.]

The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society is among the co-organizers of the eHealth Week and WoHIT conference, along with the Hungarian Presidency of the Council of the EU and the EC.

H. Stephen Lieber, president of HIMSS, said, "eHealth is here to help solve some of Europe's most pressing healthcare challenges, such as meeting the challenges of an aging of the population. However, it should also be seen as the key to new opportunities -- a whole new market is emerging with new business and new jobs, in which Europe can truly lead the world."