COPENHAGEN, Denmark — The World of Health IT (WoHIT) congress was barely under way here and everyone already was talking about where the next event would be held.

In a surprise announcement during her keynote address, European Commissioner Viviane Reding, responsible for the Directorate General for the Information Society and Media (DG InfoSoc; Brussels) said WoHIT would next take place in Barcelona, Spain, in March 2010, in conjunction with the European Union's annual High Level eHealth Ministerial Conference.

Later that afternoon a memorandum of understanding was signed between the four parties — the EU; the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society Europe (HIMSS; Brussels), which organizes the annual WoHIT event; the National Health Ministry of Spain and the Department of Health of the autonomous Catalonian state.

The chair of the governing council of HIMSS Europe, Petra Wilson, said the announcement was yet another sign that "Europe is coming together in e-health, recognizing that e-health is a European challenge and that many of the solutions will come from Europe as well."

The editor of E-Health Europe, however greeted the news in an online article published before lunch as a "de facto U.S. takeover" of European e-health that put "HIMSS in [the] pole position to dominate future European e-health exhibitions and strengthen its ambitions."

"The European Commission's high-level ministerial conference is an invitation-only, policy, ministerial and industry event that is traditionally run by the country holding the European presidency. It has in the past prided itself on being a policy forum rather than an industry trade event," wrote Jon Hoekstra, saying the announcement had caused "disquiet among some European industry veterans."

The head of HIMSS for Europe and Asia-Pac, Jermey Bonfini, told Medical Device Daily, "Joining up WoHIT with the annual high-level ministry meeting on e-health was as much the suggestion of the EC as HIMSS."

His comment was confirmed by G rard Comyn, head of the ICT for Health.Unit of the DG InfoSoc.

"I have never seen a deal where things went so fast with three governments and their legal departments agreeing in a matter of one month, said Bonfini.

"Coming out of the Lisbon Agreement, the European Commission (EC) is looking for a showcase for European e-health technology and the companies behind that technology," he said.

"The Commission knows that HIMSS USA has been successful for creating a common marketplace with the participation of well over 20,000 people," he said, adding, "I believe that is why we were tapped to kick-start the WoHIT event."

In its third year, "all arrows are pointing up for the WoHIT event," he said with more exhibitors and over 1,500 attendees with two-thirds representing users of health information systems.

With offices in Chicago, Washington, Brussels, and Singapore, HIMSS is an industry-driven organization that since 1961 has been organizing training and education events built around health information technology, and advocating for public policy changes.

Linking the EU annual event with WoHIT has been in the works since April, according to HIMSS Europe chair Wilson, whose day job is the head of the Internet Business Solutions Group for Cisco Systems, based in Diegem, Belgium.

She said that to take on the profound fragmentation of European e-health programs, governments are looking beyond their borders for help

"They are seeking best practices and the WoHIT event will enable them to see the best-in-class from other European programs in the context of a high-level policy meeting," Wilson said.

The EC has been pushing boundaries in e-health, she said, noting several recent developments.

In January, the DG Enterprise designated e-health as one of four areas for its Lead Market Initiative aimed at fostering a pan-European e-health market.

This summer the European Patient Smart Open System large-scale pilot (epSOS) was launched with 11 million in funding from the EC with the goal of exchanging patient health summaries and medication histories between EU countries. (MDD, Jul 28, 2008)

"The large-scale pilot took a very long time to bring together but now has 12 countries and 35 companies represented on the Industry Team," said Wilson.

Another significant development this summer was the Commission's proposal for a directive on health and cross-border services, an effort to chip away at the increasingly inconvenient Article 152 of the European treaty that leaves healthcare policy and regulation to the discretion of the sovereign member states.

To strengthen a single, unified market in Europe, the Commission in 2005 tried to include health services in an agreement among the member states for free movement of goods and services, which was rejected.

With the directive on cross-border health services, the Commission is making another try to crack open the treaty provision.

The new EC directive proposes that along with the free movement of trade in goods and services, the rights of citizens to consistent health care needs to be guaranteed, Wilson said.

"The draft directive recognizes there is a tension between the sovereign right to direct health services for a nation and the right of individual citizens to be assured of health care as they move from one country to another," she said.

Comyn said Europe's citizens are increasingly mobile moving to another country by choice for work or family, or else becoming accidental tourists in any of the 27 healthcare systems, due to injury, illness of simply lacking a prescription refill while on business trip or vacation.