The European Commission has announced it will merge its annual high level ministerial e-health conference with an industry event run by America’s Healthcare Information and Management Society (HIMSS).

The decision would appear to place HIMSS in pole position to dominate future European e-health exhibitions and strengthen its ambitions to grow into the leading professional body in Europe. The decision has caused disquiet among some European industry veterans, with one source speaking of a de facto US take over.

Speaking on the first day of the HIMSS-organised and run World of Health IT conference in Copenhagen, European Commissioner Viviane Reding, said that in 2010 the two events would be run together in Barcelona.

She told the WoHIT audience: “We organise an annual e-health conference and believe there is a real benefit to bring together this e-health event with this industry event.”

Earlier in her presentation Reding gave an indication of the Commission’s rationale in aligning itself with HIMSS when she said: “We’ve got to get rid of fragmentation in the e-health market.”

The European Commission’s high level ministerial conference is an invitation only policy and industry event that is traditionally run by the country holding the European presidency. It has in the past prided itself on being a policy forum rather than an industry trade event.

In 2008 the event was held in Portoroz, Solvenia, in 2009 the final stand alone ministerial event will be held in Prague, the Czech Republic.

The source stressed that the two events would be “co-located” and run in tandem with the ministerial event running alongside the re-branded HIMSS Europe event.

At a later press conference a European Commission press spokesperson deflected questions about the decision and commercial arrangements, dismissing them “logistics issues”.

However, the head of one of Europe’s long-standing health IT organisations privately expressed his dismay at the decision of the commission to lend its name to and significantly invest in a commercial event run by the US organisation. He described the decision as tantamount to a US takeover.

HIMSS is an extremely successful and streetwise US health IT professional body, best known the for its annual US health IT exhibition. The organisation is also very active in training, professional accreditation and policy development and formation, having significant influence in the US.

In recent years HIMSS has pursued aggressive international expansion with the establishment of a European arm and organising annual exhibitions and conferences in Europe and Asia-Pacific. Its goal is to become the de facto global lead body on health IT.