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Europeans to launch SOS interoperability project

PORTOROZ, Slovenia – The European Commission, as part of its Competitiveness and Innovation Programme, has announced ambitious plans to develop an interoperable cross-European patient record summary and e-prescribing record.

The Smart Open Source (SOS) project, which so far involves 12 European member states and 31 suppliers, is a complex European Commission project designed to create the services to support cross-border interoperable records across Europe.

The countries involved are: Sweden, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, the Czech Republic, Greece, Austria, Belgium, Denmark and Slovakia.

The contract is currently being negotiated and will be finalized before the summer break. It is a three-year-project under Swedish leadership with EC funding of EUR 8 million.

On an operational level, the project will be run by a management board which consists of members of the ministries of health of the contributing EU Member States. Industry is represented by an industry consortium of 31 companies that will be responsible for the technical side of the project.

In addition, the project will include a thematic network called CALLIOPE, which aims to involve further players that cannot be represented on the management board for logistical reasons. These are, for instance, patient organisations, the professional bodies of doctors and pharmacists, and standards organisations. This contract, too, will be finalised before the summer break.

“The goal is to make national health-IT infrastructures in the different EU Member States interoperable. We need access to medical information all over Europe. It is a bottom-up approach, which means that we want to take what is already there in the different EU Member States and establish a level of interoperability on top of it,” said Gérard Comyn, head of the European Commission’s ICT for health unit.

The three year SOS project is designed to create open source-based e-health services that can be used to create a pan-European patient record summary, including e-prescribing and medication details. Once created, for example, a patient from Sweden on holiday in Spain, if prescribed a new drug, would automatically have their family doctor notified.

However, with another point of view, one of the prime instigators of SOS said the project was not quite what it seemed to be. The real objective was to use the work on developing the services required for cross-border interoperability to actually drive and catalyse far more local interoperability efforts within European regions and states.

Ilias Iakovidis, deputy head of the e-health unit at the European Commission, said “Although we talk about cross-border interoperability, the ultimate goal in internal, local regional and national interoperability. That is the real purpose.”

He stressed that if member states are to crack the many problems of cross-border operability they will first need to address the issues of much more local interoperability. “They can’t do cross-national interoperability without doing it internally.”

Iakovidis said the indirect route was a necessary approach, as health was firmly a devolved member-state responsibility; whereas cross-border patient movement was a European Commission responsibility.

He said that the actual problem of patients from one country being treated in another was relatively trivial, affecting less than one percent of patients. The goal was local healthcare supported by interoperable information systems. “As that is where 99% of care is delivered.”