The European Commission has urged member state governments to take a strategic view of future healthcare needs and invest in ehealth technologies.

Speaking at Ministerial eHealth Conference in Budapest, Hungary, today, Neelie Kroes, vice president of the European Commission for the Digital Agenda, also said that investments should focus on developing an integrated approach.

“What is stopping us from seizing the opportunities of ehealth?” Kroes asked. Top of her list was interoperability.

She said there was a pressing need to develop infrastructure and standards that allow “systems to talk to each other”. But she said the investments required were necessarily long term.

“This can mean a significant investment that may only reap visible benefits many years down the line."

Kroes acknowledged that member state governments were currently focused on making savings, but urged them to not lose sight of the benefits ehealth has been shown to deliver.

She argued there is a need for new medical technology and models of care to meet the growing health demands of Europe’s ageing populations.

The number of Europeans over 65 is due to rise from 85m in 2008 to 123m in 2030, and Kroes said this made ageing "the elephant in the room".

“I understand that in tough economic times like now, instant results may seem a more attractive prospect," she said.

"But, as I said earlier, we shouldn’t shy away from tough challenges; especially when the sustainability of our care systems is at stake.

“It would be unacceptable if policy makers did not secure citizens equitable access to these services, even if it means investments and changes to structures.”

In addition to finance, Kroes said effort was required in “engaging professionals and patients and gaining their trust and acceptance."

She pledged that the Commission would sustain its efforts to work with member state governments and confirmed that a new European Commission eHealth Strategy, setting fresh targets, would be pubished later this year.

The ministerial eHealth conference, organised by the Hungarian Government as part of its presidency, is being run in tandem with the World of Health IT conference and exhibition in Budapest this week.