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General practitioners (GPs) in Europe are following the upward curve as Europeans accelerate acceptance of computers and the Internet in daily work practices, according to a report delivered at the European eHealth Conference in Portoroz, Slovenia, earlier this week.

A survey of 7,000 general practice physicians in Europe found that 87% of GPs in the 27 countries of the European Union (EU) now use a computer in daily practice — and almost 70% say they also have an Internet connection, with 48% saying that connection is broadband.

While welcoming the efforts of healthcare administrations and doctors to work more efficiently, EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media Viviane Reding said, "This diagnosis shows that it is now time to use these electronic services much more widely as they have the potential to bring extraordinary benefits to all patients, all over Europe."

The study was conducted during 3Q07 by Empirica, Gesellschaft für Kommunikations-und Technologieforschung (Bonn, Germany) for the InfoSoc Directorate General.

Some 80% of GPs said they use computers to store administrative patient data and a surprising 92% also said they store medical data on diagnoses and medication, with 81% saying they also routinely log laboratory results.

One-third said they are able to store radiological images.

The digital divide in Europe is north-to-south among the major developed nations. Denmark, Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands and the UK report the highest uptake at 95% or greater; France, Italy, Spain and Portugal report under 85%.

Not unexpectedly, the newest and easternmost members of the EU recorded the lowest e-health readiness, and here again the north-south divide revealed itself, with access to the Internet in physicians' offices falling under 50% in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia, compared to Estonia, Finland, Denmark and Sweden, where Internet use has reached saturation levels.

The gap is even greater for broadband connection, with 93% of doctors in Finland making use of a high-speed connection compared to only 5% of their colleagues in Romania.

User rates are low across Europe in general for connecting to external health electronic systems, such as other doctors' practices, specialists and hospitals, health authorities, insurance companies, pharmacies, care homes and patients' homes. Only 21% of doctors say they access other physicians' systems, for example.

An exception noted in the report is the relatively extensive access to IT systems belonging to laboratories, reported at 40% of European medical practices.

The emerging area of telemonitoring of patients — the transmission of vital data from patients' homes, which is a pillar in the strategic plan of most national health authorities — "is virtually non-existent," according to the survey findings.

Telemonitoring was most advanced in Sweden, where 9% of physicians provide telemonitoring services, and in the Netherlands and Iceland, each reporting about 3% participation.

While doctors in the western developed nations do not consider the cost of procuring and maintaining IT systems as a serious barriers to e-health use, their colleagues in the emerging east and southeast, such as Greece, Poland, Romania, Lithuania and Latvia, believe those barriers are very real and firmly in place, and they add that a lack of training also is an obstacle to wider acceptance and use of e-health.

Sandvik adds UK firm

Sandvik Materials Technology (Stockholm, Sweden) said it has acquired the medical technology company Eurocut (Sheffield, UK), a manufacturer of medical instruments and implants for the orthopedic sector.

Eurocut's customers are med-tech companies that sell directly to hospitals and medical clinics.

"The acquisition is in line with our long-term ambition to be a strategic partner within the area and a complete supplier to globally leading medical technology companies," said Peter Gossas, president of the Swedish firm.

The Sandvik Group is a global industrial company with major positions in selected areas, including tools for metal cutting, machinery and tools for rock excavation, stainless materials, special alloys, metallic and ceramic resistance materials, as well as process systems. Sandvik Materials Technology, a business area within the Sandvik Group, has annual sales of more than SEK 22,000 million, with about 9,000 employees.

Swiss firm gets additional funding

Solianis Monitoring (Zurich, Switzerland) said Zürich Cantonal Bank will invest in the company's efforts to develop a non-invasive glucose monitoring device.

Together with a research grant from the European Union and private investors, a total of CHF 2.5 million has been raised.

Solianis said the Zürich Cantonal Bank will participate with CHF 500,000 as a part of its funding program for pioneer companies. "It is essential for us to support start-ups in the difficult fundraising process and be a reliable partner for the development of the company," said Herbert Huwiler of the bank's Start-up Finance unit.

Solianis Monitoring CEO Mario Stark said, "With this capital increase we can continue the current clinical work to demonstrate that our technology is applicable in the daily life of patients."

Meeting set between Biopure, UK agency

Biopure (Cambridge, Massachusetts) said a meeting has been scheduled for May 29 with the UK's Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to clarify the issues outlined in a letter Biopure received from the Commission on Human Medicines last month regarding the company's application for marketing authorization for its oxygen therapeutic, Hemopure (MDD; April 11, 2008).

The company said the issues relate to quality, clinical efficacy, safety, and the reliability of data monitoring and auditing of clinical trials. The letter stated that the commission was "reassured" on a number of the questions raised in its initial comment letter, but that both "major" and "other" pharmacological and clinical issues either were not yet resolved by the company's submission made in November 2007 or were only resolved in part.

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