CONNECT spoke with Mario Reale, Senior Research Engagement Officer at GÉANT, and internal coordinator of TF-eHealth, to understand more about its activities and goals
Mario, why was TF-eHealth created and how did the idea become a reality?
The TF was officially established last year in July building on the outcomes of the two main community events on eHealth organised before. A first community baselining event on eHealth had shown that the community of NRENs considers it important to implement synergies and share best practices in support of the eHealth institutions. The second community event – the eHealth BoF at TNC21, gathered the community around a proposed work plan for a possible TF on the topic of eHealth, and eventually recommended its creation.
The primary goal of the TF is to stimulate discussion, sharing of experiences and best practices across the NRENs on supporting the eHealth community. An additional goal is to showcase eHealth use cases to the community, highlighting how eHealth projects and collaborations are addressing their needs within the existing multi-domain network and services infrastructure. The TF plans in this way, in the longer term, to support the process of designing and implementing scalable, privacy-preserving, GDPR-compliant and resilient services by identifying the current bottlenecks and issues NRENs are facing in supporting their eHealth User Communities.
Can you highlight the key outcomes achieved so far?
The first deliverable of the TF was a detailed gap analysis report about the needs identified by NRENs providing support to eHealth, and potential areas for collaboration. In July 2022, we hosted a Security and Privacy training for the eHealth domain, open for any interested Community member to join.
Why should the community of NRENs be interested in eHealth, and what role can it play for the benefit of the eHealth User Community?
Supporting eHealth has implications at all layers of the service stack, from the network to the cloud, including the AAI components and security. Sensitive data and medical research records require data handling management at the highest level of security and confidentiality. Plus, policies, regulations and best practices are ever-evolving, as the EC wants to ensure that the Health data lakes and eHealth research and medical e-Infrastructures allow for interoperation and cross-border provisioning of medical services to EU citizens.
In this context, the TF-eHealth can – by mandate of the NREN community – play a fundamental role as a liaison between our user communities and the EC on the forthcoming regulations on the allowed usage of primary and secondary Health data.
Mario Reale, Senior Research Engagement Officer at GÉANT
Interest in the field of eHealth has been growing quickly in recent years, due to its impact in improving citizens’ healthcare and advancing scientific medical research. Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, teleconsulting and telemedicine have, in fact, proved crucial in granting ubiquitous access to medical care. Hence, the relevance not only of the integration of medical devices and patient health records with data analysis tools, but also of secure storage for medical data and computational resources enabled by network infrastructures became evident.
For example, according to National Health Insurance figures, the number of remote consultations in France in March 2020 exceeded 600,000, compared with only 40,000 the previous month. Telemedicine quickly became a key enabler for curing patients during the pandemic, when physical contact had to be minimised.
A Task Force for eHealth
The creation of the eHealth Task Force (TF-eHealth) followed two successful community events in 2021 – a baselining meeting in January, and a Community eHealth BoF in June – which clearly showed that the community of NRENs supported the idea of a working group on eHealth. Both events facilitated tracking the developments in the domain of eHealth and getting an updated overview of the rapidly changing landscape.
As part of the GÉANT Community Programme, TF-eHealth aims at assessing the existing gaps in the support NRENs are providing to the eHealth community, identifying possibilities for collaboration and synergies for the NRENs on specific topics related to the eHealth community, and implementing the work plan.
TF-eHealth covers a wide variety of topics, from data management, interoperability, access, as well as security and privacy, eHealth applications in Cloud, AAI infrastructure, and information sharing on communications from the European Institutions.
The European Health Data Space is a good example of an initiative targeting interoperability of health data and infrastructure, regulatory aspects on medical data sharing, and the provisioning of cross-border medical services in the EU. New user-centric medical services are also being created, and each of them will require some work and consideration about data sharing and privacy. As you can see, it is a dynamic field and NRENs will have to carefully consider where to invest their resources due to the limited manpower available for TF-eHealth.
Since you mentioned it, how can TF-eHealth, with limited manpower currently available, make a real difference in eHealth?
A first step could be to improve information sharing practices across the NRENs. It is important to connect eHealth institutions with the relevant bodies within the EC and to propose to the NRENs relevant collaboration options, for example by highlighting available calls and project opportunities from the EC, the new Multi Country Projects, and the EU4Health Programme.
Also, TF-eHealth can closely follow what other initiatives on eHealth are doing and signal and report about relevant information for NRENs’ eHealth User Communities.
What’s in store for TF-eHealth in the upcoming months?
The next steps will be to produce a final report on the first year of activities for the GÉANT Community Committee (who oversee the Community Programme). In general, there will be a discussion on how the future of the TF will look like. This conversation will be led by a soon-to-be-drafted community white paper on the topic, which will provide an overview of the existing community services relevant for the eHealth community, and recommendation on what possible new services and initiatives NRENs could be working on.
Learn more about the activities and the objectives of TF-eHealth on https://community.geant.org/tf-ehealth