Patient empowerment a central focus of eHealth Week 2012

Patient-centered medicine was emphasized Monday at the opening of the 10th annual High Level E-Health conference of the European Commission in Copenhagen.

The conference returns to Copenhagen, its 2008 host city, with a focus on patient empowerment and infusing care givers and receivers with the confidence to benefit from modern eHealth tools.

"EHealth is important, because it holds potential benefits for European citizens in many ways", said the Danish Minister of Health, Astrid Krag. She noted eHealth tools make it easier to exchange health data, improving the way resources are allocated and contributed to patient safety. "But above all, (eHealth) creates the basis for a more individualized treatment by empowering and involving patients," Krag said.

Toomas Hendrik Ilves, president of the republic of Estonia, was the Chair of the European eHealth Taskforce established in 2011. He made it clear that patient empowerment and eHealth cannot do without each other. Both in Denmark and in Estonia, a national electronic patient record system is currently being established that makes a patient the "owner" of his or her patient data, in a very literal sense.

By being able to give access to personal data, this kind of electronic record makes it possible to ask for 2nd opinions. And it also paves the way for individualized care scenarios in which different care providers have access to the data they need. The patient supplies data himself by telemonitoring technologies and other eHealth tools.

Neelie Kroes, vice president of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda for Europe, said her vision was a world in which patients don't have to be passive recipients of healthcare but where simple ICT tools can put health choices into their hands. A healthcare system like that would be at once more cost-effective and more empowering, she argued. John Dalli, European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, put it this way: "The time of doctors talking down to passive patients is over."

In her opening speech, Kroes said that healthcare was still a decade behind other sectors in terms of ICT-driven structural transformations. She quoted projections that have calculated a 10 per cent increase in the European market for healthcare IT from 2010 to 2015. "That is tiny when you consider the massive scale of the digital revolution elsewhere." Kroes announced that the European Commission will continue to push eHealth forward. In October 2012, the new version of the eHealth Action Plan is scheduled to be presented. "It will set the tone for years to come in ensuring empowerment, efficiency and innovation in the healthcare sector," said Kroes.