Interoperability of the EHR in Europe: Facilitating Cross Border Cooperation

By Anett Molnar, Senior Manager, Public Policy and Engagement, HIMSS International

Have you heard of European electronic health records (EEHR) exchange format yet?

If you haven’t, but you have an interest in sharing, exchanging or accessing EHRs in Europe in one way or another, the European Commission published recommendations on the technical specifications for a EEHR exchange format.

The EEHR exchange format is part of a bigger plan, one of many ambitious initiatives announced as part of the Commission’s Communication: enabling the digital transformation of health and care in the Digital Single Market; empowering citizens and building a healthier society.

Watch Simon Eccles, chief clinical information officer at NHS England, and HIMSS Chief Medical Officer Charles Alessi discuss the growing importance of patient access to data and the hurdles facing data sharing on HIMSSTV.

The EU’s Aim is to Support Modernisation and Improve Efficiency

In Europe, member states have primary responsibility over organising and delivering health services and medical care, and European Union policies and actions aim to complement national efforts by supporting the modernisation of the health infrastructure and improve efficiency of the health system as a whole.

Health data comes in various forms and currently there is no standardised approach on how to manage it, which raises various challenges on a national as well as a pan-European level. If we add various languages as well as different levels of digital maturity into the picture, it just adds even more layers of complexity to the matter!

Health Data Often Depends on Technologies That Are Not Interoperable

According to the European Commission—and this comes as no surprise for us living in Europe—in most cases, health data is not available to the patients themselves or to public authorities, medical professionals or researchers to help them develop and deliver a better diagnosis, treatment or personalised care. Even when it is available, health data often depends on technologies that are not interoperable, thus hindering its wider use.

Therefore, the plan is to monitor the cross-border interoperability of EHR systems and identify incentives for adopting the EEHR exchange format widely across the EU as well as continue financing projects that can lead to large-scale improvements. What we know so far about the exchange format is that it will be based on open standards and uptake will rely on voluntary adoption of the industry and the entire ecosystem.

Starting with Cross-Border Patient Summaries and ePrescriptions

Current cross-border health data exchanges are based on voluntary cooperation between member states and currently limited to two use cases: Patient Summaries and ePrescriptions, with a handful of countries involved. Hopefully, adopting the EEHR exchange format in the future can give a much-needed boost to improve interoperability and extend the scale of the cross-border data exchanges at a much larger scale. In addition to the use health data within healthcare settings, the impact for public health, research and innovation could be game-changing.


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Originally published December 18, 2018, updated September 14, 2019