On Thursday 22 September, the first meeting of EUREGHA’s Working Group on Digital Transformation took place virtually. The COVID-19 pandemic triggered a widespread roll-out of digital health services, which quickly exposed the lack of conducive policy frameworks at EU and member states’ levels. Now, digital health and digital transformation are at the top of the EU agenda with the proposal for a European Health Data Space (EHDS) as most prominent example.

Naturally, digital health and transformation are important issues for EUREGHA and its members because regional authorities are often at the forefront of implementing digital policies and practices. To offer EUREGHA members a setting in which they can share thoughts and discuss digital health developments with each other and the secretariat, the Working Group on Digital Transformation was created.

The result of this first meeting was a very stimulating exchange of ideas on the EDHS and insights into ongoing regional developments in Östergötland, Wales, Puglia, Catalunya, Scotland, Flanders, Northern Ireland, and Lower-Austria. This article gives a recap of the highlights, and you can find the agenda and presented slides included at the end for reference.

It quickly became clear that digitalization and the implementation of health data systems is a key topic for many EUREGHA members. Scotland is currently finalizing a Data Strategy for health and social care, to be presented at the end of this year. Italy is working on a digital strategy at national level, and EUREGHA members throughout Europe are preparing themselves to start dealing with the practicalities of EHDS implementation.

Östergötland conducted an in-depth analysis of the proposal to anticipate and align their activities with the upcoming legislation. While the proposed EHDS is arguably long overdue and therefore very welcome, Östergötland, Flanders, and several other members expressed concern that the proposal seems to include only limited safeguards for digital security and data privacy. Data protection is inextricably linked with digital transformation, but regions are grappling with a fragmented implementation of the GDPR.

Another challenge highlighted by the members was the harmonization of national data management regulations with the EHDS. For example, colleagues from Northern Ireland shared that legislation on secondary use of data is not harmonized between the different UK countries. Italian regions face similar challenges; data regulations vary from region to region.

But not only laws and regulations may differ. Data management systems have different levels of maturity and capacity, as pointed out by colleagues from Catalunya, meaning there is a risk of some falling behind. Discrepancies in resources and capacity exist not only between but also within Member States, which poses challenges to data interoperability and equal access to digital healthcare services. For many local authorities, particularly those active in border regions, interoperability is one of the core obstacles to be solved in order to establish effective and inclusive health data management systems.

Feel free to browse the agenda and slides from the meeting via the buttons below.