Ladies and gentlemen,
As European Commissioner responsible for the Digital Agenda, I have publicly stated that one of my priorities will be to accelerate the positive impact of ICT on everyday life. In that vision, eHealth will play a key part.
There are many reasons for this. Latest research indicates that 29 % of the EU's population will be over 65 years old in 2050. And we are battling the deepest financial crisis in decades. These facts are not news - but combined, they tell us that great innovations will be needed to keep people healthy and comfortable in the coming decades. The grand theme of our time is the need to do more with less. Improving eHealth systems is one of the best ways we can address this challenge.
At the practical level, powerful truths are lined up in support of eHealth. Chronic disease management already accounts for 7 out of every 10 euros spent on health care. Knowing this is the area where eHealth has the most potential; it would be foolish not to make the most out of it.
I know all too well that it is easier to talk about these problems than it is to fix them. But the point remains that the next few years are a huge opportunity.
A new era in eHealth development
This conference marks the beginning of a new era in cooperation between our administrations and all the stakeholders that can play a role in the deployment of successful eHealth solutions in Europe.
I applaud the spirit of the declaration signed this morning by EU Health Ministers - showing their commitment to working together to deploy on a large scale eHealth in Europe.
The Commission has promoted and co-funded research in ICT for health for more than two decades. This has translated into more than 450 collaborative projects involving partners from all Europe, and more than €1 billion funding. In addition to saving lives and containing costs, this has helped to build a growing industry turning over € 15 billion per year. And this is the fastest growing market in the health sector.
This is good, but to truly harness this trend we must explore new avenues.
For example, I see eHealth as a way to offer more control for patients on their own health. Already today, people go and look for health information on the Internet - often before they even speak to their doctor. Some say we should fight this trend; I say we should make the most of it! Simply, patients must now find their doctor on the Internet. And the proof that this works is in our early success with telemedicine.
I also see eHealth as a means to achieving economic recovery. eHealth is the fastest growing part of healthcare. And ICT is one of the main innovation factors of the pharmaceutical and medical devices industries - two industries traditionally strong in Europe. So this is also about new jobs and successful businesses, and taxpayer savings. eHealth builds on two of the best assets of Europe: its health systems, and its technologies.
eHealth also requiries collaboration among all players in the healthcare sector. It is not one actor - government, doctor, patient or manufacturer - setting the terms of eHealth. Instead, success will only come from a truly joint effort.
That last point is an important one. eHealth has great potential, but we need each other to realise that potential. In my mind, the technology is more mature than the market.
Yet, we have already come a long way- and I value that. For example:
-Our 2004 eHealth Action Plan helped to test and expand our boundaries - showing the political co-operation at the European level was possible.
-After that, the Lead Market Initiative has helped us to understand the true potential for the growth of eHealth markets.
-And now, we are seeing that large scale projects, like epSOS, enable continuity of care across national borders. We are ready to work with and support all Member States in epSOS or similar large scale actions.
But we need to do more - and this week of events will help do that.
Take for example the eHealth Governance Initiative. This initiative consolidates not only news ways of working for governments across Europe, but also with stakeholders. In my view that delivers two crucial things to the field: 1) the predictability and 2) the transparency that is so critical in enabling large groups of interests to work together.
Yet I am fully aware of just how difficult it will be to achieve this agenda. To bring about change, we will need to convince various layers of governments and policy areas, but also many industries and stakeholders - in particular health professionals and patients. We need to be pragmatic; I do not want to leave anyone behind.
The economics of healthcare gives us all a mutual interest. In addition to better patient care, we all stand to either save or make money from the full development of eHealth. This is a very powerful driver for co-operation.
A Digital Agenda for Europe and the EU2020 strategy
Just a few days ago, the Commission has issued its all-encompassing strategy for the yeas to come, "Europe 2020".
Next month, I will unveil the ICT chapter of this strategy, the "Digital Agenda for Europe". It will be our vision of how ICT can shape Europe by 2015 - and be assured that eHealth will play an integral part of our ambition to make Europe a truly sustainable digital society.
My intention for the Digital Agenda is to propose clear objectives and specific targets. I believe we must focus on concrete goals to mobilise and address the legal and organisational barriers that are holding back innovation in Europe. In doing so, we must also ensure we do not compromise for the values we believe in - e.g. the quality of our care and the privacy any individual is entitled to.
A key for success is to create pan-European interoperability between the various initiatives that emerge here and there. eHealth is a very good example of that.
I have been inspired by examples such as the epSOS project. With 12 Member States on board, (and hopefully more to join soon) and 31 industry partners, epSOS shows we can set a high bar and clear it.
To me this is important because I don't want to see us get stuck at the stage of delivering "only" electronic patient records. That is, no doubt, a huge challenge in itself. But we need also to work together to deliver tools for patients that prevent health problems and personalise their healthcare. To give just one example, wearable and portable personal health systems should be mainstreamed to become standard care. We can't allow today's difficulties to distract us from these long-term outcomes.
We made the right investments over 20 years to become the world leader in eHealth. The investments worked because we took them early and we took them together.
Now it is time to step up another gear. Our finances demand it. Our citizens expect it. The technology is ripe. We are all rightly proud of our health systems in Europe. We have every reason to be proud to be working towards eHealth for all.