European countries are to work together on making their electronic healthcare system interoperable, under a decision adopted by the European Commission on Thursday.
The change in EU legislation creates an eHealth Network, as described in the Cross-border Healthcare Directive adopted in March. That directive was formulated after the European Court of Justice said citizens had the right to access safe and high-quality healthcare in another member state and to be reimbursed by their own national healthcare system, but were lacking a proper legal framework for this to happen.
"The new eHealth Network promises to bring the health benefits of the digital economy to citizens across Europe," digital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes said. "Interoperable e-health can help improve the safety and efficiency of care of millions of Europeans who travel within the EU every year."
Interoperable e-health systems can ensure a patient's medical records are available in all participating countries, if needed. They can also allow remote diagnosis and monitoring on a cross-border basis, all of which can make treatment safer.
According to the Commission, those in the eHealth Network will have to draw up common guidelines on "a minimum set of common data to be included in patients' summaries, on methods to enable the use of medical information for public health and medical research, and on common identification and authentication measures to ensure transferability of data in cross-border healthcare".
Signing up to the eHealth Network is voluntary, but on Thursday health and consumer policy commissioner John Dalli urged member states to do so.
"E-health has the potential to deliver better healthcare to more people in a more sustainable manner," Dalli said. "I am confident that the eHealth Network will play a key role in making e-health a reality across Europe: so that routine medical checks are performed in the comfort of our homes via telemonitoring; so that we take our e-prescription along with our e-ticket when we travel, with the confidence that our medical information follows us everywhere in the EU."