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eHealth 'must foster inclusion and solidarity'




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e-healthCoinciding with the opening of the 2014 eHealth forum in Athens held under the Greek EU Presidency, the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) is highlighting what it believes is the necessity that eHealth solutions must meet the needs of all end users including individuals with specific health conditions and their carers, vulnerable groups, and health providers.

The rapid growth of mHealth, which includes smartphone apps and other tools, such as sensors and robots enabling remote monitoring, ambient assisted living and real-time communication between and amongst patients and health professionals, is bringing eHealth closer to end users and narrowing the digital divide. However, as the recent report on ‘Health inequalities and eHealth’ by the eHealth Stakeholder Group points out, everybody approaches technology in a different way and there are still many barriers related to the effective use of eHealth beyond the initial hurdles of access and affordability.

Given the ongoing economic crisis in many parts of Europe, EPHA calls for effective integration of eHealth into European health systems to avoid further amplification of health inequalities. eHealth can contribute to improving access and building solidarity in Europe but this depends on policy coherence within and beyond the health sector in order to ‘Include Everybody’, as recommended in the eHealth Task Force Report.

“eHealth has the potential to improve access to healthcare for all people in Europe, contributing to the promotion of EU-wide solidarity. However, this hinges upon political commitment to tackle inequalities head on. In order for individuals to exploit eHealth solutions in a meaningful way, the acknowledgement that everybody is different is important. We need to see more targeted solutions for all those who may not have the ability to use ICT proficiently, be it as a result of physical, mental, or learning disabilities, or owing to cultural, gender or other reasons. Developing digital health literacy is a complex process that involves several different competences applied simultaneously. It is one thing to know how to use technology but another to make good health decisions based on the information available online,” said EPHA President Peggy Maguire.

The issue of health inequalities has received increased attention at European level and it must also be extended to the eHealth debate. “EPHA supports the implementation of the European Commission’s eHealth Action Plan 2012-2020 and of the Digital Agenda for Europe. It is important to find new ways to achieve cost containment and patient empowerment in Europe. But without strong investments in targeted education and training it will be difficult to create the level of trust and engagement envisaged by policy-makers,” said EPHA Interim Secretary General Emma Woodford.

More information

EPHA Briefing) Mobile Health (mHealth)
Health inequalities and eHealth, Report by the eHealth Stakeholder Group (issue leader: EPHA)

eHealth Task Force Report
EPHA Position on the eHealth Action Plan 2012-2020
EPHA Briefing on the Digital Agenda for Europe


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