Minister for Health Dr. James Reilly writes...
From 13 – 15 May, Ireland will be hosting eHealth Week, as part of Ireland's Presidency of the Council of the European Union. The theme - "Delivering Innovative Healthcare and Well-being” - provides an opportunity to highlight the potential for eHealth development and to showcase the very best that Ireland has to offer in this area, while also supporting the broader EU objectives of economic stability and sustainable growth.
eHealth refers to the combined use of electronic communication in the health sector, whether that is between patients and health service providers or patients and their healthcare professionals, or between health institutions. Whether eHealth tools are used behind the scenes by healthcare professionals, or directly by patients, they play a significant role in improving the health of European citizens.
In this context, the broad objectives for eHealth Week are simple and aim to:
· create awareness for eHealth possibilities in the health sector as well as the economic potential of technology developments
· position eHealth in support of reforming health systems both in Ireland and within Europe
· develop eHealth cooperation in and between Member States and also in the context of the EU-US Memorandum of Understanding
In relation to the potential for eHealth in the health sector and for generating economic activity, the successful introduction and utilisation of eHealth is critical to the delivery of a world class health system and provides significant opportunities to stimulate economic growth and employment, innovation, research and development. In particular, I firmly believe that enhanced collaboration between the health service and industry can lead to greater innovation and improved patient care, as well as efficiencies. This is a key theme for Ireland – reducing the cost of services, not reducing services.
We still face challenges in making our health systems sustainable against the backdrop of rising costs, increased demand for services, chronic disease management and an ageing population. eHealth can help us to meet these demands and make greater strides in terms of life expectancy and quality of life. However, progress on these fronts is dependent – to a great extent – on working together in partnership and collaboration, as joint stakeholders in our shared future.
In relation to eHealth and health system reform, Ireland is engaging in a major health reform process and will be leveraging ICT to promote better healthcare delivery and efficiencies and to encourage innovation and indeed job creation. With many of the top pharmaceutical and medical device companies based here, we also believe that Ireland is uniquely positioned to develop a world class health sector.
Ireland will shortly produce an eHealth strategy which will build on the 2012 Report of the EU Task Force: “Redefining health in Europe for 2020”, as well as the experience of other EU Member States and work done by WHO and other agencies. The strategy will focus on three key areas:
· Supporting patient driven health care services to supplement and extend traditional health care delivery models and empower patient self-care
· Providing for increased level of information flow, transparency, customisation, collaboration and patient choice and responsibility-taking
· Demonstrating the potential to both improve the ‘traditional’ health care systems and also expand the concept of health care though new services
We must work together to ensure progress. As part of that collaborative approach, I recently met with my Northern Ireland counterpart, Edwin Poots. We discussed the potential for working together, especially as Northern Ireland uses the eHealth Ecosystem model, which many other countries use as well. We have committed to sharing best practice and perspectives in this regard. During eHealth week, Ireland will continue to build on the progress made in Boston recently as part of the EU-US eHealth/Health IT Memorandum of Understanding with an EU-US eHealth/Health IT Assembly on 15 May. This illustrates the truly global potential of eHealth.
We are looking to excite the interest of industry in eHealth by providing showcase and networking opportunities, including a day-long EU-US Marketplace. Ireland will be looking at the challenges facing health professionals and administrators but also at a range of issues like legal and regulatory issues, skills, patient empowerment and the high economic and societal potential for eHealth.
eHealth Week provides Ireland with a unique opportunity to help realise the potential of eHealth and to encourage innovation within the sector. I am very much looking forward to eHealth Week, when for a few days in May, Dublin will be the eHealth capital of the world.
James Reilly TD
Minister for Health