European primary healthcare services are benefiting from broadband, says the European Commission, but there are still wide discrepancies in GPs' use of IT across Europe.
A European Commission e-health survey has found the vast majority (87 percent) of European doctors use a computer — and almost half (48 percent) have a broadband connection. The report — entitled Benchmarking ICT use among General Practitioners in Europe — said e-health applications have a growing role in GPs' surgeries, where they are helping to improve administrators' efficiency and cut waiting times for patients.
However, broadband provision differs widely across the EU — with Demark having the highest penetration of GPs using broadband (91 percent) and Romania the lowest (around five percent).
Approximately 70 percent of European doctors use the internet and 66 percent use computers for consultations, the survey found. Administrative patient data is stored electronically in 80 percent of GP surgeries, while almost all (92 percent) of these also electronically store medical data on diagnoses and medication. And more than a third (35 percent) store radiological images in this way.
The survey also found GPs often transfer data electronically with laboratories (40 percent) — but less often to other health centres (10 percent).
According to the survey, a majority of European doctors said IT improves the quality of healthcare services they provide. Those not using IT cite a lack of training and technical support as major barriers — requesting more IT in medical education, more training and better electronic networking among healthcare practitioners wanting to share clinical information.
E-health areas identified by the Commission for improvement and further deployment include e-prescribing, practiced by just six per cent of GPs; the exchange of patient data across borders (currently done by just one percent of GPs); and telemonitoring — or remote monitoring of patients: used in Iceland and the Netherlands (by around three percent of doctors in each country), and Sweden (nine percent).
According to the Commission, the most tech-savvy countries are more likely to use IT for professional purposes. In Denmark, for instance — where high-speed internet is the most widely available in Europe — the report found there is extensive use of email communication between doctors and patients in about 60 percent of practices. The EU average is just four percent.
Viviane Reding, EU commissioner for information society and media, said in a statement: "Europe is starting to reap the benefits of broadband connections in the e-health sector. I welcome the efforts made by healthcare administrations and doctors to work more efficiently. This diagnosis also shows that it is now time to use these electronic services much more widely as they have the potential to bring extraordinary benefits to all patients, all over Europe."