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Shaping Europe’s digital future
Brochure | Publication

Connected for a healthy future — Brochure

The digital transformation of health and care can improve the well-being of millions and radically change the way services are delivered to patients.

The European future is digital

To ensure the digital transformation of health and care improves the well-being of citizens, key factors include:

  • interoperability of systems and technologies
  • battling market fragmentation of health systems
  • secure access to digital health solutions and health data
  • ensuring EU citizens can trust digital solutions
  • better health data quality

Digitisation supports:

  • cross-border healthcare
  • promotion of health and disease prevention
  • health systems reforms
  • transition to new care models towards community-based and integrated care structures
  • better personalised medicine and more effective health and social care systems through the use of health data

A healthier future on the horizon

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Member States had started to digitalise their health systems and health data. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the role of data and digital technologies for health, and they have been a key part of the response. For example, to support the Member States in their efforts to develop national contact tracing and warning apps, the Commission adopted an EU toolbox and guidance principles for the use of mobile applications for contact tracing and warning in spring 2020.

This work included establishing guidelines for cross-border interoperability and setting up a European Federated Gateway Server (EFGS) to support interoperability and cross-border use of the national digital contact tracing apps.

Other measures included supporting the resilience of health systems through the adoption of telemedicine and enhancing speed and effectiveness in many other areas.

The pandemic shone a bright light on the potential of data and digital technologies to tackle wider challenges such as the rising burden of preventable diseases, multi-morbidity, health workforce shortages, the growing threat from infectious diseases, the need for rising public spending on health and long-term care, and demographic change such as the ageing population.

To overcome the current fragmentation of access, sharing and use of health data, the Commission is supporting Member States to enable secure access, for everyone, to their Electronic Health Record (EHR). For example, to improve the interoperability of health data, the Commission adopted a Recommendation on a European Electronic Health Record Exchange Format and supports further development of common technical specifications for secure exchange through a dedicated project (X-eHealth) under Horizon 2020.

Alongside these actions, the Commission is working to develop the availability and secure accessibility of different kinds of health data that can support research and innovation, policy-making and the regulatory process.

In addition to Electronic Health Records, the Commission is supporting work to develop access, across the EU, to anonymised cancer images and related patient data that can support research and innovation towards more precise and faster clinical decision-making, diagnostics, treatments and predictive medicine in the field of cancer. The 1+Million Genomes initiative is already working on making genomic data securely accessible across the EU to support care and research into cancer, and non-communicable, rare and infectious diseases — including COVID-19.

Securely linking different health data sets, across borders in the EU, such as those mentioned above, is an important step towards creating sufficient volume for health and care to fully realise the benefits of new technologies in the fields of high-performance computing, data analytics, computer modelling, and AI. This will pave the way for new applications in the field of health and care, such as digital twins, which have the potential to enhance early detection and prevention, and enable the discovery of powerful new diagnostic and therapeutic approaches.

This brochure presents key efforts initiated or supported by the European Commission, enabling Europe and its citizens to harness the power of digital technologies to transform health and care for a healthier future.

Digital health and care priorities

The Communication on enabling the digital transformation of health and care in the Digital Single Market, adopted in April 2018, outlines the key actions the European Commission is undertaking to support innovation in the health and care sphere.

The European health data space. The digital health and care priorities are citizens' secure access to and sharing of health data across borders, better data to advance research, disease prevention and personalised health and care, digital tools and data for citizen empowerment and person-centered care

The active engagement of all stakeholders parties is essential to succeed in creating a “triple win” that improves health and the quality of life of EU citizens, supports the long-term sustainability of health and care systems and enhances economic growth and job-creation.

Key milestones in the EU's digital health journey - towards a European health data space

Towards a European health data space

Directive on security of network and information systems (NIS)

Establishing a high common standard of netowrk and information security across all EU Member States, to build safe, secure and trustworthy healthcare information structures

MyHealth@EU (eHealth Digital Service Infrastructure)

Enabling cross-border health data exchange to facilitate greater access to cross-border healthcare

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

Recognising "health data" as a special category of data and ensuring high levels of data protection standards

Communication on the digital transformation of health and care

Harnessing the potential of data to empower citizens and build a healthier society

Estonia & Finland: A European Strategy for Data

Making the EU a leader in a data-driven society by establishing effective frameworks to ensure trustworthy technologies, and giving businesses the confidence and means for the digital transformation through: 

  • the White Paper on the European Approach to Artificial Intelligenceboosting the EU's technology and industrial capacty and AI uptake, addressing AI's socio-economic impact and ensuring an appropriate ethical and legal framework
  • the Data Governance Actestablishing a European way of data governance, including leveraging the economic value of health data sharing and boosting the development of trustworth health data-sharing systems

Fostering healthy R&I alliances at local, regional and national levels

  • European Innovation Partnership on Active & Healthy Ageing (EIP on AHA)
  • Active Assisted Living Programme (AAL): funding towards market-ready products and services for older people
  • Joint Programming Initiative (JPI) “More Years, Better Lives”

HPC Joint Undertaking

Pooling EU resources to develop top-of-the-range exascale supercomputers for processing health data

The EU cybersecurity Act

Establishing EU-wide cybersecurity certification framework for ICT products, services and processes, like electronic health records

Towards 1+ million accessible genomes in the EU by 2022

Linking access to genomic databases across European countries to leverage the potential of genomics in the prevention, diagnostics and therapy of cancer, non-communicable, rare and infectious diseases

European Electronic Health Record exchange format

Establishing common technical specifications for secure health data exchange to enable everyone to securely access their health records across the EU   

eHealth in the context of COVID-19

Establishing a toolbox to enable Member States to develop secure, interoperable mobile contact tracing and warning apps setting up the European Federation Gateway Service to ensure cross-border interoperability of the contact tracing and warning apps; supporting high-performance computing for repurposing medicines for finding suitable therapeutics investing in research to accelerate the deployment and market uptake of digital health technologies for strengthening the public health preparedness, prevention, response and treatment

Digital health opportunities

Advancing new digital technologies in health care towards personalized medicine, like Artificial Intelligence, data analytics and high-performance computing are essential in the digital transformation of health and care, and investments are needed to leverage the potential of big data to enable their use for better health and care outcomes.

  • 9.9% of EU-27 GDP spent on health care (Eurostat, 2018)
  • €2,982 per capita health spending (EU average, Eurostat, 2018)
  • 50% of EU General Practitioners use electronic prescriptions
  • 93% of EU citizens want to manage their health data
  • 80% of EU citizens agree to share their health data if privacy and security are ensured
  • €1 billion H2020 funding in ICT for Health, Well-being and Active & Health Ageing
  • 1,100 digital health projects funded

Next steps in the digital transformation

Under the next long-term budget, the EU Commission wishes to allocate funds strategically in line with the goals of the digital transformation of health and care. This means investment in innovation from blue-sky research to implementation and infrastructures roll-out (2018 prices):

  • Recovery and Resilience Facility: €672.5 bn, with a minimum level of 20% of expenditure directed to digital (€ 134.5 billion)
  • Horizon Europe (proposed €95.5 bn, including € 5.4 from NextGenerationEU
  • Digital Europe Programme (€7.6 bn) Investment in five key sectors: high performance computing, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and trust, advanced digital skills, and deployment, best use of digital capacities, and interoperability)
  • EU4Health (€5.1 bn)
  • Connecting Europe Facility 2 (€2 bn)
  • Cohesion Fund (€ 42.6 bn)
  • European Regional Development Fund (€200.4 bn)
  • European Social Fund (€88 bn)