WHO criticises Europe’s weak strategies for e-health

11 Mar 16

Many European countries’ strategies and investments for e-health are lacking, resulting in inefficient systems that are putting lives at risk, the World Health Organisation has warned.


The WHO said that, while e-health is being successfully implemented in some European countries, elsewhere insufficient funding and weak political commitment, governance, legislation and legal protections are leading to missed opportunities.

Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO regional director for Europe, said 21st century technologies can revolutionise healthcare delivery and health information, empower patients and challenge the traditional roles of healthcare professionals.  

However, she continued, while e-health “saves lives and money” and there are “many inspiring examples of progress”, its adoption across Europe has been uneven and stronger investment is needed to meet the objectives of WHO’s 2020 health policy strategy.

Throughout Europe, WHO found that the appetite for e-health on the rise. E-health includes a broad range of innovations including electronic health records, mobile health and health-related use of e-learning, social media, health analytics and big data.

In some areas, such as national electronic health record systems, countries reported that a lack of funding was the biggest barrier to implementation.

In others, a lack of oversight and evaluation was prevalent. For example, 73% of European states do not have an entity responsible for the regulatory oversight of the quality, safety and reliability of mobile health applications.

But the use of mobile health for access to patient records and for appointment reminders has increased since 2009, by 25% and 21% respectively. Just under half of all members of the WHO European region, or 22 countries, have government-sponsored mobile health programmes, but only three have carried out evaluations of them.

Similarly, none of the 35 countries that reported that their healthcare organisations use social media to promote health messages as part of health campaigns have a national policy to govern this, leaving it informal and unregulated.

Similarly, only six member states have a national policy or strategy regulating the use of big data in the health sector and only four have one to regulate its use by private companies.

WHO said that the realisation that successful investment in e-health requires “far more than just the acquisition of technology” was needed.

It said a “holistic view” of the impact and changes required to a range of areas, including organisational processes, legislation, and training, was needed, with any of those able to “derail initiatives if neglected”.

“Perhaps the most revealing message is the need for stronger political commitment for e-health, backed by sustainable funding, and for effective implementation of policy that is protected from changes in the national political landscape,” WHO said. 

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