COCIR Feedback from eHealth Conference, Malaga

Impressions of the eHealth conference in Malaga, May 2006 From 10-12 May the 4th eHealth conference took place in Malaga.
It was much larger than previous conferences. The conference in Malaga included a World Interoperability Forum and an Industry Forum. Therefore industry was better represented at this conference. There was however still very little representation from Healthcare Providers. The emphasis of this conference is on national or EU policy. It is not a general conference on Healthcare IT. Around 900 people participated in the event organised by the Spanish Andalucian Regional Government together with the European Commission (DG's INFSO and SANCO) in cooperation with the Austrian EU Presidency. This conference shows the emphasis placed by the Commission on visible progress in eHealth implementation, and the necessary cooperation between the Member States. eHealth promises to bring solutions to the diverse challenges facing our healthcare systems, such as the aging society, chronic disease management, medical errors, rising costs and increased demands by citizens.

Member States:
Diverse Directions Many eHealth projects were presented by Member States as well as by diverse institutions within EU and non-EU countries. Progress was reported, also in the new EU Member States. However, there is still very little or no cooperation. Very often the message from Member States was that there have been great improvements in quality and efficiency, and that they would be happy to share these experiences with other countries.

Industry Forum: 
No Unified Message For the first time there was an industry forum, with large Healthcare IT and IT companies, including COCIR member companies Agfa, GE, Philips and Siemens. Some issues were emphasized by several speakers, such as the need for one unified market in Europe. The successful approach of the IHE program for interoperability was supported by the speakers from COCIR companies. Also the many non-technical obstacles were mentioned. Overall there was little attempt to approach the Commission and Member States with a common industry message, except for companies represented by COCIR.

Interoperability Forum: Interesting But No Time For Discussion
The World Panel on eHealth Interoperability brought some key people together from the various national programs of the UK, Sweden, Denmark, Spain, Canada and the USA. It was an excellent idea to organise such a panel. Also IHE was invited to present its approach and successes. Unfortunately there was no time for discussion, and no time to compare the different approaches.

Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise (IHE): Excellent Exposure 
IHE, for the first time at an eHealth conference, received excellent exposure through the World eHealth Interoperability Panel as well as in the parallel sessions by presentations. In the exhibition there were several examples of IHE implementation. A lot of "marketing" towards the healthcare authorities in the Member States was done. The short video of the Barcelona Connect-a-thon was an excellent presentation of the scale and importance of this voluntary testing effort.

COCIR Approach Clearly Communicated 
COCIR was invited to present its opinion about the role of the Commission, the Member States and the eHealth Stakeholders Group in one of the sessions. The value of COCIR is even more evident after the Industry Forum, where the audience asked for a common vision. COCIR called on the Member States and the Commission to take real action towards one roadmap for EHR introduction, by, among other things, strengthening coordination within Commission Services and taking the eHealth Stakeholders Group seriously. The importance of the IHE approach was stressed - users and industry working together to address solutions towards seamless workflow. The Commission should encourage European participation in international standards, and avoid European-only approaches. However, standards and technology issues are currently not the biggest hurdle to achieving interoperability. Important obstacles are sustainable financial models for investing in eHealth and different legal approaches between the countries. COCIR does not favour 3rd party verification of interoperability standards and it offered to cooperate with the Commission on self-certification based on its IHE Connect-a-thon experience.

Kees Smedema
COCIR Healthcare IT Committee Chairman