Cross-border access to health data: EU moves one step closer

New recommendations aim to advance the sharing and access of health data across borders in the European Union.
By Leontina Postelnicu
03:45 AM
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The European Commission has published this week a Recommendation on the development of a European EHR exchange format that would enable citizens to access their electronic health information securely across member states.

The Commission says this will boost medical research, increase quality of care and decrease costs.

Some EU countries have already made progress on making parts of health records accessible and exchangeable, and yesterday’s news follows a recent announcement that Finnish citizens can now retrieve medicines in Estonian pharmacies that are prescribed electronically by their doctors back home through the eHealth Digital Service Infrastructure.

Doctors in Luxembourg will also soon be able to access patient summaries of Czech citizens, including information about allergies or current medication, and 18 other member states are expected to follow in their footsteps by the end of 2021.

The new recommendations now propose that access be extended to laboratory tests, hospital discharge reports and medical imaging results.

“How many of us, when travelling or relocating to another Member State, have wished we could access our own medical data and share them with a local General Practitioner?” asked EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Vytenis Andriukaitis.

“Moreover, being able to securely share medical information with doctors abroad has the potential not only to substantially improve the quality of care we receive but also to have a positive effect on healthcare budgets. It is less likely that expensive medical tests, such as imaging or laboratory analyses, would need to be repeated,” Andriukaitis added.

Security and data protection are named as two elements “central” to the exchange of electronic health files.

The Commission says that access to these data should be based on using secure means of identification and that member states should make sure that “citizens are able to choose to whom they provide access to their electronic health data, and which health information details are shared”.

A joint coordination process will now be created between the Commission and member states to take the exchange further and facilitate discussions with relevant stakeholders.

Bruce Steinberg, Executive Vice President for International at HIMSS, parent company of Healthcare IT News, welcomed the announcement:

“Figures from the European Commission show that there are more than two million cases recorded every year of EU citizens living in one state and seeking care in another one, and the development of a European EHR exchange format will greatly improve the care of those that need it by facilitating access to vital information.

“We encourage patients, healthcare professionals, industry representatives, researchers and other groups, both at a national and EU level, to contribute to make this initiative a real European success story.”