Czech auditors warn of delayed e-health implementation despite EU funding
Despite EU funding, the digitalisation of healthcare in the Czech Republic is delayed and critical components are still missing resulting in local doctors being unable to obtain information about patients in urgent situations, the National Audit Office has warned.
Auditors warned that the Czech health ministry has not yet provided a uniform, secure communication environment for health service providers to share health data. The ministry has not established key e-health components like health registries, trust services, and central eHealth services.
As a result, Czech doctors cannot effectively obtain all necessary and existing patient information in critical situations.
“A total of CZK 159 million (€6.5 million) spent on the implementation of selected strategic objectives of the electronic health care system did not lead to their fulfilment, and the Ministry of Health postponed this task until 2026,” the National Audit Office warned in its October 2023 report, adding that it sees a “significant risk in the continuous deepening of delays in the electronic health care system”.
The amount comprises two key projects co-funded by the EU cohesion funds. While one was to build the basic departmental infrastructure for e-health, the other was to fund the strategic management of e-health development at the Czech Health Ministry.
However, the former project was eventually significantly reduced in funding and content, focusing only on acquiring hardware.
In addition to infrastructure building, the auditors also looked at legislation. They found that the health ministry prepared the law on digitalising healthcare, but it was too little and too late.
The act approved in 2021 provides the basic legal framework for e-health, legally defines the roles and responsibilities of entities in the system and sets communication standards and rules for sharing medical documentation.
However, according to auditors, “it had omitted the parts regulating the emergent record, the personal health record and the health documentation index”.
“One of the basic visions, that of a patient-oriented healthcare system, has not been fulfilled,” the auditors stated.
The ministry has also deferred the implementation of the e-health targets until 2026, with funds to be drawn from the National Recovery Plan.
‘A failure of the previous government’
“The Ministry of Health respects the published results of the audit and has already taken steps to correct them,” Ondřej Jakob, the ministry’s spokesman, told Euractiv.
“The audited period falls mainly within the period of the previous government. The electrification of healthcare is now very intensive,” he said, adding that the ministry will soon introduce new projects in the field of e-health.
As for the legislative issues, Jakob said the ministry had presented the law in such a way as “to make its chances of being adopted as high as possible”.
However, an amendment is already in the legislative process and represents the next stage of the electrification of healthcare in the Czech Republic.
National Recovery Plan: Another chance for Czech e-health
Jakob also confirmed that the Czech Republic plans to pay for e-health from the National Recovery Plan, through which EU countries outline reforms and investments to revitalise their economies.
Recovery plans also unlock access to the Recovery and Resilience Facility created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Czech National Recovery Plan includes a chapter dedicated to e-health services.
The aim is – among others – to ensure that the Czech Republic meets the European Commission’s recommendations in this area, namely that 80% of health service providers will be involved in the health record exchange system by November 2025 and will adapt their data formats for interoperability.
The interoperability should apply, for example, to medical reports and prescriptions.
The National Recovery Plan is also intended to promote secondary data use and the development of telemedicine in the country. The total cost of the e-health reform paid for by the Recovery and Resilience Facility is € 58 million.
Additional funding will also come from cohesion funds directly to hospitals, which should be able to purchase and expand information systems.
[By Aneta Zachová – Edited by Vasiliki Angouridi | Euractiv.com]