eHealth could be of great benefit to healthcare

We cannot let austerity measures impact on the quality of our health sector, writes Piernicola Pedicini.

By Piernicola Pedicini

Piernicola Pedicini (IT, NA) is a shadow rapporteur for Parliament’s Reduction of the Impact of Certain Plastic Products on the Environment report

28 Sep 2015

Looking at the current state of EU health policy, it is clear more needs to be done to improve the health of European citizens, particularly as free, universal access to healthcare treatment must be guaranteed.

In Parliament's report on safer healthcare in Europe: improving patient safety and fighting antimicrobial resistance, for which I am responsible, I identified some key actions which member states and the Commission should take as a matter of urgency to increase patient safety and reduce antimicrobial resistance.

Patient safety is an incredibly important issue affecting more than 3 million people every year, around 10 per cent of the total number of patients admitted to hospitals. The number includes those affected by things such as medical errors and healthcare infections. The total cost of these medical errors and healthcare infections is over €2.7bn per year.


We also face a dramatic increase in cases of antimicrobial resistance. Every year 25,000 European citizens die of causes related to increased resistance to antimicrobial agents. In 2050, deaths caused by antibiotic resistance are estimated to be about 10 million, more than the number caused by cancer.

The indiscriminate application of austerity measures in the health sector, adopted by some member states, has had a negative impact on patient safety. 

For example, the reduction of medical personnel and hygiene specialists has led to an increase in the likelihood patients will contract healthcare-associated infections and higher expenses for the healthcare sector. 

Instead of cutting jobs, member states should invest in educational programs for health professionals, which address patient safety, and ensure medical personnel have continuous life-long training. 

One of the main reasons healthcare spending seems so inefficient is because of political interference in the appointment of managers and other health professionals, as well as the corruption of public procurement procedures.

eHealth and mobile health have great potential to increase the efficiency of healthcare treatments and reducing costs. I welcome the Commission's identification of eHealth as a priority area of activity in the digital single market strategy. 

The Commission and the member states should further explore the possibilities offered by eHealth in the area of patient safety by tracking information flows and improving the understanding of medical processes, as well as through digital prescriptions and alerts on drug interaction. 

Telemedicine integrated with healthcare at home would contribute towards the rationalisation of costs and increase the humanisation of care.

A patient-centred approach is essential in healthcare. However, unfortunately, this is not always the approach adopted. 

It is essential to promote the humanisation of treatments, for instance, providing home-care medical treatments, which can help patients psychologically and result in better healthcare performance. 

Patients must be empowered with key information to be able to take informed decisions and give their informed consent. 

We need to make sure that patients and patient organisations are actively involved in healthcare treatment decision-making, as they play a pivotal role in the prevention of healthcare-associated infections.

Concerning the urgency of fighting antimicrobial resistance, we need to continue, post-2016, the EU action plan on antimicrobial resistance led by the Commission. 

The strategy should focus on the promotion of the use of antimicrobial agents through awareness-raising campaigns which target all population groups. 

Sales of antimicrobials without prescription should be strictly prohibited (this is not always the case, especially in the south of Europe), and an appropriate microbiological diagnosis should be made before prescribing any antibiotic.

I strongly call for "real research" into new antimicrobial drugs which is separate from pharmaceutical companies' interests, as well as for alternative natural methods to treat infections without necessarily using antibiotics.

As the increased use of antibiotics in animals is a cause of antimicrobial resistance in humans, antibiotics in veterinary medicine should be limited, prophylactic use should be eliminated, and metaphylactic use strongly restricted.

In its report, the Parliament called on the Commission to further address the presence of resistance bacteria across the whole food chain.

Another issue which I expect the Commission to deal with is the off-label use of medicinal products. I look forward to reading the results of the Commission's study assessing the existing and foreseen practices of off-label use, due to be published in summer next year.

Wherever the results of this study will lead, I strongly recommend that medical professionals inform patients when a medicine is used off-label and provide patients with information on the potential risks in order to enable them to give informed consent. 

Moreover, provisions at EU level should be adopted to ban the off-label use in animals of antimicrobials authorised only in human medicine.


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