The Spanish Pedro visits his friend Manuel in Vienna. Unfortunately, he stumbles as he walks and loses consciousness when he hits the ground. He is transferred to a nearby hospital for a life-or-death operation. The doctors admit it and consult their medical history: they check previous interventions and analyze if they have allergies or intolerances that discourage the use of certain medications.
This example is one of those used by the European Commission to endorse its latest proposal. Brussels wants patient records to be available digitally throughout the European Union to improve treatments and save time and money. With thousands of students moving from one country to another with Erasmus scholarships, mass tourism landing on low-cost flights or talent traveling fast under the rules of a globalization without borders, Brussels considers the time has come to facilitate the exchange of health data. , always with patient authorization.
The advantages seem obvious to the community executive. It will not be necessary to repeat medical tests, some of them very expensive to perform. Citizens will not have several clinical records scattered throughout Europe. The huge volume of available data, managed with artificial intelligence tools, will allow improving decision making and promoting medical research against chronic or neurodegenerative diseases. In short, attention gains effectiveness.
"How many of us, when we travel or are going to live in another EU country, have we wished to have access to our medical information and share it with local doctors?", Said the Commissioner of Health, the Lithuanian Vytenis. Andriukaitis, medical training. The commissary of Digital Economy, Mariya Gabriel, has insisted on the same idea. "The logic is very simple: if citizens can circulate freely throughout the Union, why not their medical data? How many x-rays have to be repeated when they return home after an accident abroad?"
A senior community official involved in the launch of the initiative believes that Europe has a significant delay in this agenda. "The starting point is ridiculously low, at a time when everything is shared, sometimes a medical prescription can not circulate within a country due to lack of interoperability." The health sector has extraordinary potential: we have transformed cancer into chronic disease and what it promises the conjunction of Big Data and artificial intelligence it's a revolution, but regulation goes way behind technology, "he says.
The measure is for now only a recommendation. The Commission will discuss the matter with the Member States and receive contributions from the health industry, experts, doctors and patients to shape it. The solution is not simple. Countries such as Germany or Spain, where länder and autonomous communities have broad competencies in healthcare, they even have internal barriers for patients. And in the German country voices have been raised against the supposed cost of digitizing the data.
However, there are precedents that work. Citizens of Finland can now buy medicines at Estonian pharmacies with an electronic prescription, and Luxembourg doctors will soon be able to access the medical records of Czech patients. Interoperability will go further in the coming years: it is expected that in 2021 there will be 22 member states -among them Spain- that will allow the use of prescriptions from other countries in their pharmacies and exchange summary histories of patients translated into the language of the doctor. Estonia is the great example: the country has become in the most advanced digital society on the planet. And it has also transferred that obsession to the health sector: last year it offered 100,000 citizens a free genetic analysis to get to know them better and help prevent diseases.
In the midst of the scandals of data leaks on a global scale such as those that have shaken Facebook recently, The protection of privacy has become a challenge. Brussels insists that security and compliance with the new data management standards must be a priority. "It is not very relevant that Amazon knows what book you like, but that a clinical history is known is delicate," warns the same official. The lack of understanding between the Ministries of Health and the data management authorities does not help to speed up the situation.
Meanwhile, the Commission presents more examples of the benefits of its plan. Someone who has lived and worked for 30 years and now, affected by a heart condition, wants the doctors of his native country to consult his complete medical history, he could do it. Also in the reverse case, a patient interested in treating a tumor with a specialist from another EU country would have an easier time processing it by speeding up the journey of all that information.