With Malta at the helm of the European Council, it has taken a stand to restore trust in the EU and also prioritise some key issues for health.
Malta, an island country with a multi-lingual population and strong legal system is well established in international cooperation in health and healthcare. It is no surprise that cross border health and systems sustainability is one of the health priorities under the Maltese Presidency. It aims to streamline the Directive on Patients’ Rights and Cross-Border Healthcare, supposed to strengthen patients’ rights and enable free access to health care services across the European Union The recent conference “Towards amplified awareness of EU rights to cross-border care” found an almost total lack of awareness amongst patients of their rights and a complex legal framework that is difficult to deal with, highlighting the results of a recent Commission report.
Stephen Mifsud, the Maltese EU health attaché points out the need for cross-border health systems to be better organised, better streamlined and easier for patients to use in a recent interview on the Presidency’s health priorities. Malta intends to support existing deployment of eHealth. In May, they will host “eHealth Week”, an annual event with support from the European Commission and the WHO.
The Commission has intensified its work on eHealth Digital Services Infrastructure and the Free Flow Data Initiative (part of Digital Single Market Strategy) that will further facilitate digital services to go cross-border and enable the exchange of data, including medical data. The first round of the exchange late this year will apply to ePrescriptions and patients’ summaries. The goal is to ensure that cross-border cooperation becomes a reality by 2020, as recommended in the eHealth Network guidelines.
Cross-border data management has the potential to improve the effectiveness of treatment and systems efficiency. Patients should benefit from better continuity of care, reduced errors in prescriptions, and less duplication of health services.
However, Maltese Health Minister Chris Fearne has admitted that the benefits also bring concerns and threats: “Big data has become a major industry both for the pharma sector and the way diseases are treated.”
The Maltese Presidency should use the opportunity to ensure coherence, transparency and legal clarity in digital health, not forgetting to look beyond the EU and take account of the global implications. Perhaps more than ever, European values of solidarity, universality and equity must stand on an equal footing with economic objectives such as innovation and competitiveness as the Maltese Presidency also tackles other EU health challenges such as cross-border healthcare, data protection, public procurement and health security.
Policy Officer for Health Systems