The European Commission has published the preliminary findings of a study into National eHealth strategies that concludes Europe is leading the rest of the world when it comes to eHealth advances.

The study, commissioned by the EC and carried out by Empirica, says virtually all EU member states have either started or will shortly start the implementation of national systems to make basic patient data available to healthcare professionals.

The study, which compares the prominence of eHealth activities in national strategies in 2006-2007 and in 2010, shows that member states now publish far more policy documents, and that many contain concrete eHealth goals, implementation measures and past achievements.

The research shows that electronic health records and patient summaries have been high on the agenda for some time, with 27 countries working to implementing a system.

However, only two countries – Sweden and England – are routinely using the records in either primary or secondary care. Eighteen countries are planning for them and five are in the implementation stage.

Similarly, e-prescribing is high on the agenda but only in use at a national level in Denmark, Iceland and Sweden.

Belgium, the Netherlands, France, the UK and Spain are working towards wider roll-out and pilot schemes are underway in the Czech Republic, Finland, Italy and Poland.

Telemedicine is a focus for 27 countries, to a varying degree. The survey finds that the Nordic countries are the only countries who have widespread telemedicine at a national level.

Spain, Slovakia, Romania and Poland are working toward national telemedicine strategies.

Other eHealth activities include the continuous evaluation of eHealth strategies, which has increased from being an activity in five countries in 2006-7 to 21 in 2010.

Ilias Iakovidis, deputy head of the ICT for health at the European Commission, said: "Services high on the agenda are the electronic transfer of prescriptions and the provision of telehealth services for doctors and patients in remote regions or for chronically ill patients at home.

"These are among the key activities identified in our 2004 eHealth Action Plan. We are happy to see that the development of this Lead Market Initiative, which we have supported for many years, is gaining such momentum."

Despite the progress made, the study points out that reaching agreements relating to eHealth strategies and their implementation “has almost everywhere proven to be much more complex and time consuming than initially anticipated.”

The study outlines key challenges to the front runners in eHealth to be competition or IT suppliers, alignment of local, regional and national strategies and systems, and issues around interoperability and a common terminology.

The full findings of the study will be published next month.