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Going all digital: making it happen for health

The 8th yearly EHTEL Symposium brought together the European eHealth community - health policy leaders, strategic EU projects and initiatives, NGOs, industrialists and more stakeholders.

The 2017 event was inspired by EHTEL's championship for the Blueprint on Digital Transformation of Health and Care for the Ageing Society. Also, the Digital Single Market objective "Digital first" provided perspectives around digital innovations and the transformation of care.

The event comprised the EHTEL Communities' day (15 March - EHTEL premises) and the EHTEL Symposium Plenary Day (16 March) hosted by EESC, at Rue Van Maerlant 2, Brussels - Belgium.



Introducing the 2017 EHTEL Symposium

"What is more important than the health of people in Europe?" asked Pierre Jean Coulon, President of the TEN Section of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), launching the opening of the 2017 EHTEL Symposium which met in the House of Civil Society. He announced the results of a recently-published EESC study on Ethics and Big Data, which argues the important role that big data can have for the health care of older adults.

Going in the same direction, then EHTEL President John Crawford, also representing Gold Sponsor IBM, agreed that good quality data collection can help with population health, and the monitoring of patient adherence to prescriptions, advice and guidance.

"It was also a very good sign" Mr. Crawford said, "that the 2017 Symposium was focusing on the future-looking work of the Blueprint on digital innovation". It offers a forum for bringing together the many sets of activities needed to benefit the people of Europe in terms of their healthcare. EHTEL is one of the several founding champions of this work.

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As a result, the 2017 EHTEL Symposium emphasised five specific areas of concern underpinned by the work of Blueprint.

The promises of data-driven health and care

Speakers from consultancies, health care providers, authorities and from industry spoke of the directions to be taken in terms of making the best use of data.

An insight into Finland showed that Finnish people are particularly convinced by the importance of access to their own health data said Päivi Hämäläinen. Only 51,000 people - just 1% - have opted out of sharing health data out of the country's 5.5 million inhabitants.

Systems that are becoming available, such as IBM's Watson, with its "actionable data" can really help to understand the health of whole countries' populations as Angus McCann explained. Indeed, "Integrated care is NOT possible without ICT" commented EHTEL Board member, Rachelle Kaye.

Organisational and change management for innovative healthcare

Yet Jan Van Emelen from Optimedis Belgium reminded the audience that "People change is more important than technologies' change".

How a focus on organisational change can help people who are experiencing chronic pain was made very clear by clinician, Enrique Bãrez Hernandez, of Osakidetza in the Basque Country, Spain.

These, and similar, challenges are of vital importance to action groups in the European Innovation Partnership.

The B3 action group on integrated care is working hard on all these issues added Cristina Bescos of Philips Healthcare. As part of her work, Cristina has organised an "actionary" on change management.


A battle with words on innovation vs standardisation

The afternoon debate was enlivened by discussions between Catherine Chronaki, Michael Strübin, and Robert Vander Stichele.

Embedding appropriate guidelines into the technologies themselves can help people use the technologies, Michael Strübin of Personal Connected health Alliance (PCHA), reminded the audience.

FHIR reflects a position that: "Standards are us" ... "We are the people who want things to happen" advocated Catherine Chronaki of HL7 International Foundation.

More about the importance of standardisation in the field of active and healthy ageing will soon be emerging from the European Commission co-financed project PROGRESSIVE, of which EHTEL is an active member.


Co-creation of innovative services

Challenged by Hanneke Fischer of Abbott (Silver Sponsor), two interesting presentations were made on methods of co-creation by Victoria Betton and Iben Kromann from the United Kingdom and Denmark on what can be done to encourage co-creation and collaboration.


Messages included:

  • Always start with needs!
  • Approach digital innovation as a social initiative and not as technology.
  • Always make time for an early "discovery phase".

Attendees were particularly interested in the stages at which citizens, stakeholders and end-users can be involved in designing innovative new systems and services, including in the field of standardisation.

Putting digital health to work

The urgent needs for enhancing digital skills of the health workforce were highlighted by session chair Rachelle Blake of OmniMicro, EU*US eHealth Work Coordinator. Finland's emphasis on digital skills for clinicians was laid out clearly by Jarmo Reponen from the University of Oulu.

The TIGER initiative is also of great importance, emphasised Toria Shaw who was beamed in from HIMSS North America to speak.


Some findings on the patchy state of existing digital skills in the health work force were reported by Stephan Schug, EHTEL.

Closing remarks

DG CONNECT head of unit on eHealth, well-being and ageing, Miguel Gonzãlez-Sancho, brought the Symposium to a close with this powerful message: "While technology's important, people are even more so".


The Blueprint, and its focus on the digital single market, means that policies from a wide range of different domains - the market, health, technology, research - are all coming together now in a coherent way.

Concentrating on a European effort with a European dimension, focused on people, could bring European health and care much further along. Indeed, according to Mr Gonzãlez-Sancho "This whole initiative will help us to improve the quality of care for people with rare conditions, people who need treatment, and will enable us to manage our own health."

This 2017 EHTEL Symposium is just one effort in making these messages known.

EHTEL is keen to champion these important activities. It has dedicated plans throughout 2017 for moving digital transformation in health and care.

Scroll down to find and download some of the resources made available to all EHTEL Symposium's participants.


  • EHTEL Symposium 2017 - schedule and programme 19 March 2018 PDF*
  • Jarmo Reponen - embedding digital skills in medical curricula 19 March 2018 PDF*
  • Angus McCann - population health management 19 March 2018 PDF*

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