O’Malley addresses EU Health Conference

EU eHealth Conference 2005, Tromso 24th May 2005, Closing address, Minister of State, Tim O’Malley T.D.

First and foremost I would like to thank our Norwegian friends for the excellent organisation of this conference which has made a significant contribution to the future development of eHealth at the European level.  I would like in particular, to record our warm thanks and appreciation of the marvellous welcome and hospitality we have received over the past number of days in Norway.

These have been very productive days which have highlighted the advantages of eHealth and how it can provide targeted information to improve patient care.  Health is not everything, but everything is nothing without health, and eHealth has an important role to play in improving health for European citizens.  I fully endorse the proposal for one unified coherent group to co-ordinate eHealth matters at European level and to better improve co-ordination rather than having a multitude of different groups in this area.

Just as illness knows no borders, we have seen that eHealth knows no borders also.  It is crystal clear that we must pool our experience and our expertise to exchange best practice and to advise each other as to the best, and most effective solutions to current health challenges.  We must avoid re-inventing the wheel in each Member State, over 25 times, and we must work together to provide information about the best results and solutions which have been developed within the European Union.  At the Spitsbergen Ministerial Meeting I was struck by the similarity of the challenges facing health care systems across Europe and we should endeavour through the good offices of the Commission to exchange information and best practice on these solutions.

Equally, the solutions to the challenges around the protection of the medical record, the legal and data protection aspects, security and confidentiality of sensitive health data are issues that can best be addressed at a pan-European level to facilitate the mobility of patients to centres of reference within the European Union.  A lot of good work has been done on patient mobility among the Member States in recent years.  eHealth is delivering better quality information to patients, particularly from vulnerable groups, so that they can make well-informed decisions.  The further development of health cards, especially smart cards, is clearly the way forward in the years ahead.

Conferences such as this do make things progress and provide a very important opportunity to talk together and learn from each other.  There is no magic solution.  The challenges we face in the area of eHealth and the message coming forward from this conference is that exchange of best practice is the key.  We must continue to ask ourselves in the health community, and in the information and communication technologies sector, how we can co-operate together to improve public service delivery generally, and patient-centred health care services in particular.

Concrete and measurable goals are an essential element of this process.  Next year’s eHealth conference in Malaga will provide us with the opportunity to review progress, benchmark our performance, and identify the tasks for the next 12 months ahead.  The combined eHealth road maps being provided from the various national eHealth action plans will allow us to provide more citizen-centred healthcare services in a context of rising expectations, increased mobility and increased budgetary constraints.

With patients accessing so much information about ill-health and treatment options on the internet, the European Union has an important and valuable contribution to make in terms of the development of the health portal at national level and at European level.

I was particularly impressed with the excellent summary yesterday of Ansgar, our host at the Ministerial Round Table that the summary from the Tromso eHealth Ministerial Conference should be health information without borders.  Tackling such an ambitious objective requires clear and concise timetables and milestones.

Finally, it must not be forgotten, as my colleague Mars mentioned in his opening address yesterday, that health care is a very significant part of our economy accounting for 10 per cent of employment and 10 per cent of Gross Domestic Product in Europe.  Therefore, in addition to empowering citizens and delivering better care for patients, it is an important part of the overall Lisbon Strategy which will continue to encourage the development of out competitive, knowledge-based economy.

Finally I would like to again thank our Norwegian hosts for the excellent organisation of this conference and for their very warm hospitality.

Thank you.