Global Challenges, Territorial Answers: the Future of Health in Europe - Event organised by EUREGHA on behalf of the Committee of the Region's Interregional Group on Health and Well-being

On 10 May, EUREGHA hosted a roundtable on eHealth with Dr Terje Peetso, Policy Officer at DG Connect “eHealth and Wellbeing” and Mr Wouter De Jonghe, Business Expert Vitalink, Flanders Region.

The roundtable provided an opportunity to explore the topic of eHealth in the EU. The event covered the main opportunities and barriers with the wide implementation of eHealth, the Commission’s agenda ahead, as well as a practical example from the implementation of an eHealth service in the Belgian region of Flanders.

Dr Terje Peetso gave an overview of the current use and benefits of eHealth, including the use of health and wellbeing apps, ranging from step count apps to self- and remote monitoring of blood sugar levels and heart arrhythmias, which represents new opportunities for the provision of healthcare and public health.

The emergence of electronic health records enables better communication between healthcare providers at different levels of care and between regions and countries. Here, the issue of protection of sensitive data becomes crucial, especially the issue of data integrity. These issues needs to be tackled with adequate legislation and efforts to build awareness and trust among both patients and health care professionals.

Other related important issues include digital health literacy, patient empowerment and health inequalities.

A mid-term evaluation and a public consultation of the eHealth Action Plan 2012-2020 will take place during the summer of 2016.

Wouter De Jonghe presented the Flemish experience of having implemented a network for data sharing between healthcare providers: Vitalink. The network is very complex and the double encryption leads to a very high level of security and data privacy.This high level of security and robust data protection was vital in the development of Vitalink.

One of the challenges ahead is to make Vitalink mobile, since there is a growing demand to access data from smartphones. This proved to be more difficult, since the software is not readily transferable to the different programming systems of the operators. It remains a big challenge to adapt the product to a complex market, particularly given the complex decrypting mechanisms. Developers are currently working on building implementation software, and hope to see some first results by the end of the year.

So far, Vitalink collects vaccination, cancer screening and medications data from 3 million citizens. The hope is to expand and to bring in more health information in the future.