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EU embraces data to reduce unnecessary medical tests

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The European Union (EU)'s vision for a European health data space would lead to improved healthcare outcomes and economic gains of more than €10bn (£8bn) within the next 10 years.

Currently, EU patients spend €1.4bn (about £1.2bn) every year on unnecessary medical images alone. 

To address this issue, the European Commission has outlined a plan to make health data easier to access for patients, medics, regulators and researchers. The new European health data space is expected to improve the efficiency of existing healthcare services as well as boost medical research, according to an EU document obtained by Reuters.

An estimated one in 10 X-rays or ultrasound tests taken by EU patients are actually duplications of existing valid images. This proliferation of unneeded tests is caused by data silos as well as strict restrictions regulating the accessibility of patients' data, to the point of keeping patients from being able to access their own records. 

Widening the use of accessible electronic prescriptions is expected to lead to large savings by reducing errors in dispensing medicines. EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides has said that easier access to health data would also greatly help patients with serious conditions, such as cancer, by improving diagnoses.

Moreover, accessible data records will help patients take control of their own health. 

"People cannot always easily access their health data electronically, and if they want to consult doctors in more than one hospital or medical centre, they often cannot share the data with other health professionals," the document said.

The EU Commission believes it could address the problem by creating healthcare databases that are freely accessible online. 

Under the EU plan, data generated from patients' health records and increasingly-popular wellness apps would be pooled in interoperable formats and made freely accessible to patients, regulators and researchers under strict rules to protect privacy, the document says. The EU also plans to enforce strict cyber-security measures to ensure the protection of patient data and keep companies from sharing patient information with third parties.  

The Commission estimates that easier access to anonymised health records for analysts and data professionals could lead to €5.4bn (approximately £4.5bn) in economic gains in a decade thanks to more effective research and cheaper drugs.

Another €5.5bn (£4.6bn) in gains would come from savings for patients and healthcare providers, and from "faster growth of the digital health and wellness applications markets".

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