The European Commission has published a new strategy aimed at accelerating the growth of the e-health market in Europe by removing legal and regulatory barriers and promoting interoperability over the next two years.
The new paper, ‘Accelerating the Development of the eHealth Market in Europe’, forms part of the Commission’s new ‘Lead Market Initiative’ (LMI) in e-health, designed to create a thriving pan-European e-health market.
E-health is the first of six LMIs being carried out by the Commission, with similar initiatives to follow in protective textiles, sustainable construction, recycling, bio-based products and renewable energies. The aim is to maximise the potential of each of these markets and reduce the cost of bringing new products or services into the market.
The e-health LMI paper says the e-health industry in the EU was estimated to be worth €21bn in 2006 and has the potential to be the third largest industry in the healthcare sector, with rapid double-digit growth anticipated by the end of the decade.
As well as large technology vendors, Europe is estimated to have a total of approximately 5,000 European small and medium sized enterprises operating in the e-health market.
The future predicted growth of the market is based partly on historic under-investment in the sector. The report says over the past 25 years healthcare has progressively fallen behind other service sectors in terms of ICT investment, until recently stubbornly stuck at around 1% of total healthcare revenues. The Commission says that all market participants and observers “agree e-health in Europe is set for explosive growth”, so long as current obstacles are removed.
“However, this potential growth might not occur if the existing barriers to the market are not removed,” warns the new paper. It says these barriers remain market fragmentation and lack of interoperability, legal uncertainties, lack of financial support and procurement problems.
The paper divides the e-health market into four main categories of applications and services: clinical information systems; telemedicine and homecare; integrated regional and national health information networks and distributed electronic health records; and secondary usage non-clinical systems.
Particular focus is given to the development of two main areas “telecare/homecare and clinical information in the primary healthcare sector”, where strong growth is predicted and European companies are believed to be “well placed to sieze the new opportunities arising in these two specific sectors”.
Lower priority and attention is giving to fostering the market in more traditional hospital and clinical IT applications – such as hospital information systems. “The presence of EU industry is relatively weak in more traditional fields related for example to administrative and management systems or basic computational infrastructures.”
E-health is squarely identified as critical to the wider development of a single European health market, particularly to enable it to tackle challenges of productivity, patient safety and developing new models of care to meet the health needs of ageing populations.
The e-health paper sets out a roadmap of policy recommendations for industry representatives, EU Commisison working groups, Member States and other e-health stakeholders. Recommendations focus on removing regulatory, legal and technical barriers hindering the creation of a thriving European e-health market, setting out policy recommendations over the next two years to 2010.
It states “e-health is considered as the key factor in decreasing the costs for healthcare; however a suitable legal and regulatory framework is indispensible.”
Market development recommendations are divided into four main categories: reducing market fragmentation and lack of interoperability; improving legal certainty and consumer acceptance; facilitating access to funding; and improving procrement processes.
As well as EU and Member State policies and commitment, industry participation is identified as vital but the report says the market alone cannot be relied upon to deliver. “Until now market forces have not ensured a sufficient availability or take-up of ICT-enabled solutions for health.”
The strategy says the LMI is “not about picking winners”, but about identifying areas with the greatest potential for adding value to the European economy and “developing a business environment that enables industry to develop and commercialise innovative products and services on an innovative basis”.
While being Europe’s major funder of e-health research the Commission says the e-health LMI must deliver real market development and not simply interesting projects. “It is not about artificially creating markets for research results. Rather, it is about creating a business environment that enables industry to develop and commercialise innovative products and services on a competitive basis.”
To address the issue of interoperability the European Commission will shortly publish a recommendation on e-health interoperability, aimed at “achieving a European health information space by 2015”. In addition steps are proposed on the certification of systems to common standards and specifications – similar to initiatives already underway in the U.S.
Further steps are proposed to examine whether regularory measures are needed to address current areas of legal uncertainty, including steps to support the mobility of patients and their data across Europe.
On funding the paper notes the Commission’s recent Aho Report argued the proportion of EU structural funds dedicated to research and innovation should be trebbled, which if implemented “could provide major opportunities to support deployment of e-health solutions and thus contribute to the development of an e-health market”. In addition, revisions to EU cohesion policy are also identified as an opportunity.
Finally, on procurement the paper outlines steps to help promote the procurement of innovative e-health solutions. While acknowladging that procurement for innovation is risky, and most public bodies “are by nature risk averse”, it says much can be done to share experience through networking and co-operation on how such risks can be effectively managed.