The European Parliament has voted to support the Commission’s Action Plan on eHealth to 2020, which focuses on the widespread deployment of telemedicine, patients’ access to their health data and interoperability.

The Commission welcomed the Parliamentary vote, saying that the Plan will “improve healthcare for the benefit of patients, give patients more control of their care and bring down costs.”

The vote endorsed a report on the Plan prepared by Spanish Member of the European Parliament (MP) Pilar Ayuso, a member of the Parliament’s environment, public health and food safety (ENVI) committee.

In her report, Ms Ayuso points to the “solid potential market” for eHealth. The global telemedicine market was worth $9.8 billion in 2010 and $11.6 billion in 2011, and is forecast to grow by an annual average of 18.6%, reaching $27.3 billion in 2016, she notes.

eHealth can go some way to meeting the challenges being faced by all European Union (EU) health systems, she says; it provides a way of improving the quality and effectiveness of healthcare and of making it increasingly universal. 

To achieve these objectives, healthcare service providers need to work with one another, and beyond the areas for which they are responsible and linguistic boundaries. “This calls for technical standardisation, interoperability of European healthcare systems and the introduction of certification and authentication schemes applicable across the EU,” Ms Ayuso writes.

In order for the public and healthcare professionals to have confidence in the benefits of eHealth applications, these must be given legal certainty, and issues including those of data protection, confidentiality, privacy and responsibility need to be resolved, she says. And it is “vital” that member states share their knowledge, experiences and good practices and work among themselves and with the Commission.

Projects must be developed with the best interests of patients in mind, and “it is imperative that the opinions of doctors and other healthcare professionals, and of patients associations, be taken into account prior to and following the development of eHealth applications,” she emphasises.

“They are the ones who will use these applications, which means that they must not only be convinced of their worth, but also know how to use them, and that all the requisite information must be made available, in both the public and private sectors, and tailored in a clear manner to the field to which it relates,” Ms Ayuso writes.

Neelie Kroes, the European Commissioner for Digital Agenda, welcomed Ms Ayuso’s report and the MEPs’ vote. She particular applauded Parliament’s “insistence on the importance of interoperability of eHealth systems and the need for the Commission to take a leading role in establishing international standards and an EU eHealth Interoperability Framework.”

‘The Commission will be working on these for the rest of the mandate,” said the Commissioner.