PARIS — "Travelling around the European Union is taken for granted, until something goes wrong," said Viviane Reding, the European Union (EU) Commissioner for Information Society and Media, in unveiling the launch of the Smart Open Services (SOS) project that aims to set up interoperable, cross-border electronic health records (EHRs).

The SOS project will receive 122 million in funding from the EU over the next three years with the goal of enhancing the safety and quality of care for citizens who require medical assistance while travelling or living in another EU country.

Described as a large-scale pilot the project is supported by a core group of 12 European Union member nations that includes Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Denmark, France, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Slovakia, Sweden and the UK. (Medical Device Daily, May 3, 2007).

Set up under the EU large-scale pilot model that has proven successful in harmonizing standards in other are of co-operation, the SOS project will be driven by participating countries and focuses on enabling the cross-border provision of ICT-based services that are already operational at national, regional or local level.

A member of an industry work group participating in the project told Medical Device Daily that Sweden, one of the world's most advanced nations for EHRs, will lead the project.

A total of 30 companies providing health information and communications systems (ICT) to diverse e-health programs in Europe will be represented on the SOS project team by IHE-Europe (Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise), which in June incorporated as a non-profit association to be able to legally take a place at the table with government health ministries, the executive told MDD.

The two goals for the European initiative, which may eventually realize first-to-market advantages in setting standards for the highly fragmented world of health IT, are to enable health care professionals treating a foreign patient to reach into the databases of the home country's health systems to extract a summary of a patient's essential medical information, such as blood group, known allergies, and medical conditions, and a summary of medications.

Simply being able to identify a patient from another country with a smart health card would mark a break-through as today regional systems within a single country are not often able to manage this fundamental step.

"The EU's initiatives on e-health intend to remove linguistic administrative and technical barriers, by making it easier for people to receive treatment even when they are away from their home country," said Reding.

"I expect our recommendation and the SOS project to make an important contribution to saving patients' lives in emergencies," she added.

More than a milestone, the funding and launch of the SOS program is a watershed event for e-health in Europe and marks the first large-scale implementation of IHE practices for interoperability.

The patient and medication summaries will establish the world's first methods for cross-border exchanges using established data standards and set a benchmark not only for the other 15 members of the EU but for governments worldwide that are developing unevenly and inconsistently their own health information systems.

The SOS project will set up a compatibility of electronic medical information regardless of language or sophistication of technology, according to Reding, "without having to establish a common system throughout Europe."

Diagnosing illness and prescribing proper medication with little knowledge of patient history is a frequent problem for foreign-language doctors in Europe who increasingly are called upon to treat both tourists and business travellers from a European population of over 450 million people that has become highly mobile since the relaxing of cross-border restrictions.

It also is a population that is aging fast and dependent on medications for long-term illnesses, and the SOS project responds to an increasing demand to refill prescriptions in another country.

The SOS program will conform to the European approach, mandated by law, for patient choice in controlling access to records and the type of information that can be stored.

The EU treaty does not provide the Commission with a mandate for health issues and it can only recommend policy and practices, though the EU serves an essential role for member states to resolve shared problems.

Expanded lines for bioMérieux

bioMérieux (Marcy l'Etoile, France) said it will be expanding the footprint of in vitro diagnostic assays for its Vidas platform at the American Association for Clinical Chemistry (AACC; Washington) annual meeting being held last week in Washington.

The company also is using the AACC event to unveil three microbiology laboratory automation platforms, BacT/Alert for blood culture, Vitek 2 for identification and antibiotic susceptibility testing, and DiversiLab for microbial straintyping.

The additions to the Vidas analytics platform play for high-volume markets and include rapid detection tests for antibiotic-associated diarrhea in hospitals, an innovative assay for risk assessment of a patient's progress to severe sepsis and septic shock, two diagnostics for myocardial infarctions, a D-dimer exclusion for the diagnosis of pulmonary embolism or deep vein thrombosis in emergency settings and an assay to aid diagnosis of suspected congestive heart failure.

bioMérieux is seventh-ranked worldwide as a provider of in vitro diagnostic solutions and reported 2007 revenue of €1 billion ($1.56 billion), with 84% of sales outside of France.

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