Europeans love to travel, but hate getting sick while away. Help is at hand with better technology and cross-border administration that make the ‘sun, sea and sickness’ formula sound less dreadful.
Whether it is for business, leisure, visiting friends and family or education, Europeans are frequent travellers – making hundreds of millions of trips abroad each year. This sort of mobility – of people, products and services – is enshrined in European Treaties. It is good for economies and good for everyone.
But one area in particular still causes headaches. Getting healthcare while travelling can still be tricky for many Europeans, despite a long-standing legal framework for healthcare provision across Member States.
The situation got better with the launch of the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), entitling European citizens to equal access to healthcare in another Member State if needed.
But EHIC’s arrival in 2004 has proven to be no silver bullet. Awareness of its benefits is still quite low among Europeans. Meanwhile, support systems – administrative and technological – have struggled to keep pace with growing leisure travel and labour mobility.
But European initiatives are keen to do something about that. Two projects developing IT-based services for cross-border healthcare provision, TEN4Health and NetC@rds eEHIC ID, have agreed on common European messaging standards that link hospitals and other healthcare providers with health insurance organisations, and with national healthcare IT infrastructure.
The common web services agreed by the EU-funded projects are specified in WSDL, a web-services description language, and messaging is communicated through XML, a software mark-up language for documents containing structured information, like healthcare records.
The agreement is considered a major step towards full interoperability of web services throughout the European healthcare sector.
"With this agreement, we are paving the way for a European standard supporting the necessary communication and data exchange processes for cross-border healthcare in Europe," commented an EU official close to the projects.
It means if an Austrian or German breaks his leg on a jet ski in Italy or the Netherlands, he can get equivalent healthcare to what he might expect in his home country. And now the healthcare provider can reliably and quickly determine that the patient has valid health insurance, making reimbursements faster and less painful.
TEN4Health and NetC@rds are both co-funded by the EU’s eTEN programme for market validation and initial deployment respectively.
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