ERCIM News No.39 - October 1999

Health and Information Technology

by Vesa Pakarinen

As the information society is becoming more concrete in EU member states, the challenge is to synchronise the rapid development of information technology with the changing market of health care and medicine itself. The rapid changes that have taken place in the field of informatics, have also an important knock-on effect in the health sector. However, pure technology is not sufficient, the acceptability of healthcare policy makers and end-users is of utmost importance. As citizen’s aspect is becoming more and more crucial, the whole area of health care service providers is migrating to a new position, where qualified, managed and seamless care is the ultimate goal of health care strategy taking into account the general trends like ageing and integration needs of systems.

The European industry – not having access to adequate and consistent information of the work efforts and of the expertise of R&D in health telematics - is not always able to well understand their requirements, the diversity of needs (driven by organisational and socio-cultural differences).

Information technology also plays an important role in solving the structural problems of health care, combined with decision to re-engineering and change management. This also means changes in the economy and functionality of an organisation using information technology and information systems. An information system is always logical and it is impossible to introduce it into a non-logical environment - which is why also the environment has to change. Process management has been brought into health care mainly through the development of information systems.

Also the need to benefit of a knowledge-based health service to citizens and professionals, using available new telematics technologies is growing, due to the development of evidence-based medicine.

Objectives of the Working Group

At the end of 1997, the ERCIM Health and Information Technology Working Group was initiated, mainly because many ERCIM-members are working in the field of Health Care (or medicine). The original purpose of the workgroup was to:
• build up an ERCIM network for people and organisations working in the field e.g. by its own www- pages and workshops
• raise awareness of this WG within ERCIM, the EU Commission and national actors
• prepare joint project proposals among ERCIM-institutes.

In 1998, the Working Group held one meeting in in order to find common interest among ERCIM-members for practical projects (see ERCIM News No. 34). A possible co-operation platform was seen in the 5th Framework Programme of European Union. The working group identified some coherence, including keywords like :
• integration of heterogeneous medical information
• technology transfer and societal embedding of innovations in health telematics
• enabling technologies (e.g. XML) in health care
• biosignal interpretation
• assistive technology for citizens with special needs.

As networking tools are improving and the boarders of organisations are getting more diffuse, the focal points of the ERCIM-network activities could be:
• enhancement of publicity, data accessibility and information services with regard to social and health information technology and its applications
• implementation of joint R&D projects with several partners at the European, national and regional levels
• intensification of collaboration between ERCIM organisations in order to develop and utilise information technology and telematics
• co-operation with regional and other equivalent centres of excellence.

There are two key possibilities how this Working Group could concentrate to the domain. Another, traditional dimension is to sub-specialise into very deep and narrow know-how in selected areas. Another possibility would be focusing on the integration aspects of complex systems used in health care (see figure). The latter kind of orientation implies co-operation with other ERCIM Working Groups, like user-interfaces and usability in general.

integration aspects of complex systems

Concerning citizens’ aspects, there can be danger that we are entering into a society where citizens loose control of the technology development. It may be that data security and privacy solutions are unreliable, and where governments and corporations can use health databases for their own purposes, even against the interests of the individuals. Already today we can see that inequality between citizens and regions are increasing depending on whether there is a possibility to use information technology or not.

Themes that could be explored in the 5th Framework program:
• personalised user interfaces
• usability
• independent living solutions
• content provision (health information, guidelines etc.)
• integrated solutions for citizen centred wellness & health
• E-Health
• ambient intelligence.

As concrete actions, the working group is planning to have a workshop during ERCIM week in Amsterdam, preliminary date is the 3rd of November 1999. The aim of the workshop is drafting a proposal to the 5th Framework Programme, focusing on the second call of Information Society Technologies Programme (IST, deadline 15th Dec 1999). Preliminary partners and collaborating companies have being identified in active member organisations of ERCIM and preliminary interest is in the Key Actions 1.1-3. Another occasion to finalise the proposal could be around IST-99 conference in Helsinki at the end of November 1999.


HIT web pages: http://www.vtt.fi/

Please contact:

Vesa Pakarinen - VTT
Tel : +358 3 316 3358
E-mail: Vesa.Pakarinen@vtt.fi

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