EU pushes for healthcare records share with US

The presidency, held by Spain, wants to lay the groundwork for sharing of digital healthcare data between EU and US systems
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

Healthcare records held in the UK could be shared with the US, as a result of an initiative being promoted by the EU presidency.

The presidency, currently held by Spain, wants to lay the groundwork for a bilateral agreement between the EU and US for sharing digital healthcare data, according to a statement it issued on Thursday.

"The aim is to create a scenario for clinical information exchange and technical interoperability between the project promoted by the Obama administration and the European project," said the presidency in the statement. The Spanish minister of health and social policy, Trinidad Jiménez, met her US counterpart Kathleen Sebelius in Washington last week to push for the agreement.

The US intends to digitise all healthcare records within five years as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act 2009. Several European countries, including Germany and the UK, have pilot projects for electronic healthcare records.

One of the main NHS projects for sharing healthcare records is the nascent Summary Care Records system, designed to be accessed by medical staff across England. The system is part of the National Project for IT (NPfIT), which has had sustained criticism from IT security experts and doctors.

The Department of Health declined to comment on the EU presidency's push, but did say that the NHS technology office is engaged with international standards organisations, such as Health Level 7.

In addition, the NHS's IT body Connecting for Health has links with peers in the US, the department added. These include a collaboration with the College of American Pathologists for the SNOMED initiative, a project to create common machine-processable medical terminology for data sharing.

The European Data Protection Secretariat (EDPS) said that it had taken note of the EU presidency's initiative. It added that any agreement to share data between the EU and the US would have to conform to data protection and privacy laws in Europe and in individual member states.

"This legal framework [for information exchange] will require special safeguards for the protection of sensitive personal data on health and an adequate level of protection in third countries to which personal data are to be transferred," EDPS said. "Any agreement would, under the Lisbon Treaty, be subject to approval by the European Parliament. Any agreement would finally also require a sufficient consensus on e-health among EU member states."

BT, which holds a contract to support Summary Care Records, declined to comment and referred inquiries to the Information Commissioners' Office (ICO). CSC, the other contract holder for the system, did not respond to a request for comment.

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