The European Commission has published its recommendations for the standardisation of the process for access to citizens’ health data across the  EU Member States. Access to health data across borders means that is that if a citizen has an accident in one of the EU countries, the doctors abroad will be able to access the patient’s medical history in order to be able to provide the best treatment possible in a shorter amount of time.

The aim is to develop a better medical system both for citizens and for the medical professionals. The process of exchange has already started between some of the bloc’s members, such as Finland and Estonia as well as Luxembourg and the Czech Republic.

These new recommendations are not a matter of establishing a new medical standard for the European Union but about setting up a secure system that enables citizens to get better quality health care wherever they are in the EU.

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Until now the exchange of data only involved sharing of prescriptions and patients’ summaries. The new recommendations aims to extend this exchange in three different areas: laboratory tests, medical discharge reports, and images. The Commission also proposes technical standards for the exchange.

By providing access to personal health records across the bloc, the Commission hopes to achieve a number of benefits such as increased quality inpatient treatment and a more efficient health system across the EU. This will also reduce unnecessary expenses in laboratory or radiology tests because the access to personal health records will prevent patients from taking the same tests, which European Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis says “allows to make savings to the EU budget”.

In order to implement the electronic health data exchange, a Joint Coordination Process between the EU’s 28 members at the European level will be established. 22 of the Member States have already agreed on the exchange of medical information. Different actors from the health industry to patients will contribute to the process.

Mariya Gabriel, the European Commissioner for the Digital Economy and Society, believes that this process is an important step to take to achieve a single market for health, stating that “EU citizens move freely in the EU. Their medical data should be able to circulate freely as well.”

Is personal medical data going to be fully protected?

Data security will be guaranteed through electronic identification. The citizens will be the ones who decide to whom they are willing to provide access to their personal health data and which details are shared. The goal is to implement the exchange of electronic health data in full compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Compliance with the GDPR already determines the ground rules of this exchange. The EU’s members are also encouraged to take security measures on national levels to ensure the security of the electronic health data.  Moreover, the recommendations seek to support medical research by using personal health data.