The European Commission has published a report on the cost-effectiveness of standards-driven eHealth interoperability; the exchange of data between IT systems. This is one of a number of parallel initiatives from the Commission to advance e-Health interoperability, such as the EURO-CAS project launched in January this year, and is an essential part of the EU Digital Agenda.

The ultimate goal of the Commission’s efforts on eStandards for eHealth interoperability is to join up with healthcare stakeholders in Europe, and globally, to build consensus on eHealth standards, accelerate knowledge-sharing and promote wider adoption of standards.

The eStandards project is working to finalize a roadmap and associated evidence base, a white paper on the need for formal standards, and two guidelines addressing how to work with: (a) clinical content in profiles, and (b) competing standards in large-scale eHealth deployments. An initial roadmap has already been prepared. The final roadmap aims to describe the actions to be taken by standards development and profiling organizations (SDOs), policymakers in eHealth, and national competence centers, to warrant high availability and use of general and personal health information at the point of care, as well as for biomedical, clinical, public health, and health policy research.

The objective of this discrete cost-effectiveness study is to support the preparation of the final roadmap. The study contacted 3 categories of stakeholders: i) Centers of Competence; ii) Vendors (mostly small and medium-sized companies) on the European market; and iii) Standards Organizations (mostly international). It has shown that stakeholders use the same tools in different projects across Europe, which should facilitate communication of best practices between them.

Its main findings are that:

  • All stakeholders consider that using standards and standards-driven tools contribute to better quality products.
  • Vendors and Centers of Competence share the same benefits as a result of the efficiency of the project (e.g. the continuous improvement of the specifications, and their effectiveness).
  • In terms of economic results, the study shows clearly that using and reusing existing tools and content saves effort and time, as well as money. It standardizes methods of working and increases professionalism of the project team. However due to the complexity of the eHealth domain, training is one of the major challenges for increasing the adoption of profiles and standards.
  • The study also indicates that standards are available, but the challenge is their adoption.

The study proposes a few practical recommendations for promoting the use of the standards-driven tools:

  1. Develop a strategy to communicate and disseminate the use of standards-driven tools, showing evidence of their positive impact in the development of projects and products;
  2. Develop simple indicators and/or refine the indicators used in this study in order to quantify the progress of adoption of standards-driven tools;
  3. Identify the weaknesses and limitations associated with deploying standards and tools;
  4. Develop conformity assessments and testing platforms for better adoption of the standards.

These initiatives complement the new guidance published on 23 March by the Commission for digital public services in its new European Interoperability Framework, which is meant to help European public administrations to coordinate their digitalization efforts when delivering public services.