European doctors catch the e-health bug
The majority of European doctors have caught the information technology (IT) bug, according to a new Europe-wide survey on e-health. In total, 87% of European doctors now use a computer in their practices, while 69% have an internet connection. However, lack of training, inadequate technical support and maintenance costs are preventing a wider take-up of e-health applications across Europe.
The survey, which involved almost 7,000 doctors, found that the majority have a basic information and communications (ICT) infrastructure, comprising a computer and the internet.
A total of 80% of those surveyed said they were using their computers to store administrative patient data. Of these, 92% also store medical data on diagnoses and medication electronically, while 81% do the same for laboratory results.
Other types of data stored include a patient's symptoms or the reasons for his/her visit (79%), the medical history of a patient, ordered examinations and their results (77% for each), results of vital sign measurement (76%) and radiological images (35%).
Not surprisingly, the countries with the highest take-up are those where access to IT is already widespread. Denmark, Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands and the UK emerge as the frontrunners in overall e-health use and lead the way in several specific areas such as electronic prescriptions.
'Europe is starting to reap the benefits of broadband connections in the e-health sector. I welcome the efforts made by healthcare administrations and doctors to work more efficiently,' said Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media. 'This diagnosis also shows that it is now time to use these electronic services much more widely as they have the potential to bring extraordinary benefits to all patients, all over Europe.'
But even within the confines of a doctor's practice, the digital divide still manages to rear its head. This is particularly the case for some of the newer EU Member States. The survey reveals that 13% of practices are still without the most basic IT equipment, namely a computer, while the share of practices with a computer falls to as low as 65% in Malta and Romania, and 57% in Latvia.
Similarly, access to the internet in doctors' surgeries is less than 50% in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia, compared to Estonia, Finland, Denmark and Sweden, where internet use has reached saturation levels. When it comes to broadband, the gap is even greater, with 93% of doctors in Finland making use of a high speed connection compared to only 5% of their colleagues in Romania.
User rates for connecting to other health electronic systems are moderately low across Europe in general. Such systems include other doctors' practices, specialists and hospitals, health authorities, insurance companies, pharmacies, patients' homes and care homes. Only 21% of doctors say they access other doctors' systems, while 17% of practices have a connection to health authorities, and only 3% are connected to insurance companies.
A notable exception is the IT systems belonging to laboratories, which are accessed frequently by 40% of European medical practices. By contrast, only 7% of practices have an e-connection with pharmacies, which would explain the equally low take-up of e-prescribing. Other areas where take-up is virtually non-existent are telemonitoring, the transmission of vital data from patients' homes and the exchange of patient data across borders.
While European doctors on average regard neither a lack of IT support nor cost of procuring and maintaining IT as serious barriers to e-health use, the perception of practitioners from countries with low e-health use levels - Greece, Poland, Romania, Lithuania and Latvia - is quite different. In these countries, barriers are regarded as still firmly in place. Factors hindering wider take-up include a lack of training and high costs.
In 2004 the European Commission adopted an Action Plan to develop the use of ICT in the Health sector. As a result, all Member States put in place strategies to accelerate e-health deployment. E-health also forms part of the Lead Market initiative for innovation launched by the Commission this year.
Data Source Provider: European Commission
Document Reference: Based on information from the European Commission
Subject Index: Evaluation; Medicine, Health; Social Aspects