Coverage from World of Health IT 2010, Barcelona

European Union health ministers have signed a declaration that recognises the strategic value of eHealth and commits to greater collaboration across Europe.

The declaration was signed at the high-level ministerial conference on eHealth in Barcelona, which is part of the World of Health IT conference being held this week.

It was driven the Spanish presidency of the EU, which wants eHeath to be an integrated part of European policies.

As part of the declaration, the ministers responsible for eHealth said that they recognised the “importance of fully integrating digital healthcare into the European policy portfolio and the development of the post 2010 European strategy.”

They said they will work toward “greater political coordination” between areas in which eHealth can improve healthcare and aim to remove barriers in its deployment.

Speaking at the high level ministerial press conference, European commissioner for digital agenda Neelie Kroes said: “This declaration is crucial. This is a signed document and the beginning of a new era.

“Time is not our friend and we need to start now. The stakes are high. eHealth is now a market worth more than €15 billion per year and is the fastest growing market in health, despite the economic crisis.

"I’m convinced that without embracing ehealth, our health service will simply not work tomorrow.”

By signing the declaration, the ministers also committed to organising activities at European level related to innovation and to the legal issues involved in managing healthcare data digitally.

Neelie added: “It’s not only government, it’s industry and those involved in medical care. There needs to be legal clarity about the cross border approach, which needs to be done by the ministers.”

Neelie described the declaration as a “to do list that we need to fill in” but said “we are absolutely capable of tackling the problem, so let’s go for it.”