U.S., Europe Sign Accord to Foster EHR Compatibility

European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes and U.S. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius signed an agreement in Washington to collaborate on EHR interoperability.

The United States and the European Commission have signed a memorandum of understanding to work together on compatible formats for EHRs (electronic health records) and to promote education in health care technology.

Vice President of the European Commission Neelie Kroes and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius announced and signed the memorandum on Dec. 17 at the Transatlantic Economic Council, a political organization that fosters economic cooperation between governments.

Interoperability of EHRs is essential for the e-health market to grow globally, according to the Commission.

Under the terms of the memorandum, HHS and the Commission will exchange delegates and specialists to share information on e-health. They'll also set up joint working groups, workshops and conferences to establish shared strategies on EHRs.

Adoption of EHRs is four times higher in the EU than in the United States, the Commission reports.

"Nothing makes more of a difference to people's lives than good health," Kroes said in a statement. "I warmly welcome today's agreement. It is an excellent basis for the Commission and the U.S. authorities to expand our cooperation on promoting the overall benefits of e-health for patients, health systems and companies."

Under the agreement, EU and U.S.companies will have greater potential to do business in e-health on either continent, according to the EC.

The U.S. government is investing $20 billion toward the use of EHRs under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

"The partnership between the EU and the U.S.,the two world leaders in e-health, sends a strong signal to all stakeholders that common standards and interoperability bring opportunities for a global approach for the benefit of patients, health systems and the market," the EC said in a statement.

Using e-health technology can improve health care quality, reduce medical costs and increase the possibility of independent living, the EC reports.

The agreement is part of the EU's Digital Agenda for Europe initiative, established in May 2010 and outlining the continent's agenda to boost its digital economy by 2020. All Europeans will have access to online medical records anywhere in the EU under the Digital Agenda.

Companies such as GE Healthcare, KP (Kaiser Permanente) and Verizon Business have been working to develop health record databases that can support interoperable record types.

In October GE Healthcare unveiled plans to test the interoperability of its Centricity EHR platform in early 2011. The company expects full commercial availability of the features later that next year.

Meanwhile, that same month, Verizon said that its Medical Data Exchange would support the exchange of multiple types of documents, including X-rays and lab results.

Also in October, health plan provider KP (Kaiser Permanente) announced that HHS would distribute its Convergent Medical Technology to allow for greater understanding of EHRs by doctors and patients.

"One of the key challenges to achieving a coherent health record for every U.S. consumer is the need for consistent data across all systems and institutions," said Sebelius at the time of the announcement with KP.