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Estonia and Finland first to start exchanging healthcare data by end of year

Estonia & Finland will start to exchange digital prescriptions by the end of the year in what's seen as a groundbreaking move from Estonian Health Minister Riina Sikkut who hopes other EU countries will follow. It is currently common practice for healthcare professionals to use the e-health system to exchange patient medical records. 



“But it is also important for people who have a need for healthcare services abroad to have his or her health data available to a doctor, nurse or a pharmacist so that they could also provide quality healthcare services and continuity of care."

Estonia Health Minister Riina Sikkut

The cross-border flow of data has recently taken centre stage in the discussion in Brussels. Right now, if a citizen moves to another EU member state their healthcare data is lost. Advocates of the digitisation of healthcare say data mobility is currently the biggest issue, which if you've been following us a while, you'll know we previously spoke about this here in our Universal EHR report. The data mobility is known as the "5th freedom" and is going to be the driver of this sector in the future. This is because without data mobility we're not going to see the potential benefits of new technologies such as AI fulfilled - an area with already billions of investment seen here and here.



EHR Healthcare Solution



Estonia is known for its digitisation push in all industries, even taking significant steps to create a "coalition of the willing" of EU member states speeding up healthcare data mobility in Europe. An EU project in this direction is the e-Health Digital Service Infrastructure (eHDSI), successfully used by Helsinki & Tallin.



“Estonia and Finland are likely to be the first countries to start exchanging digital prescriptions already by the end of this year, as we both have already gone through the necessary auditing process. So, hopefully, by the end of this year, the first cross-border digital prescriptions will have been exchanged in the EU. Let’s think big but let’s start from tomorrow, let’s start taking small steps to achieve [it]."
Estonia Health Minister Riina Sikkut

Riina added that services will be implemented cautiously, step-by-step. 3 countries will follow in 2019 (Sweden, Greece, Cyprus) with more joining in 2020.



“Also, some countries are already planning to start exchanging patients’ summaries in Europe in 2018 and 2019 (for example Malta, the Czech Republic, Luxembourg), and Estonia is planning to join in 2020. Our intention, of course, is to be also among the first implementers, who will enable the cross-border data exchange.”


The Barriers




For Estonia, there are two issues which need to be resolved to enable an international exchange of healthcare data, legal framework and interoperability. The legal aspect doesn't represent an insurmountable barrier, considering that there is a clear EU direction in developing a digital single market in healthcare.



“We, in Estonia, certainly sense a real willingness among member states and the European Commission to work together to enable the free movement of (health) data. But the task is far from easy. A new promising initiative under the Digital Single Market strategy is the definement of a common data exchange format for electronic health records (EHRs). This is an important step towards enabling cross-border data exchange beyond what is currently possible under eHDSI."

Estonia Health Minister Riina Sikkut 




Quality Healthcare Becoming A Reality



EHFG President Clemens Martin Auer commented that Estonia and Finland, also member states, would start being capable of exchanging healthcare data next year due to recent infrastructure developments. 



“That’s an infrastructure project; it’s not a pilot project anymore. It’s a concrete digital infrastructure […] we’re far away from the pilot phase, this is real world real exchange of real eHealth data.”

Auer, who is also the director general at Austria’s federal ministry of labour, social affairs, health and consumer protection, noted, “I’m very happy we reached this level of European collaboration. But it’s much broader than just the best practice example between Estonia and Finland.”

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