Data Strategy: the European Health Data Space

April 2024
By Tomislav Sokol*

The concept of data spaces and initiatives like the European Health Data Space (EHDS) have gained momentum as part of the European Union’s broader data strategy. These data spaces aim to create secure and interoperable environments for sharing and utilizing data in specific sectors, like health, but also agriculture and food data or education.

Agriculture plays a crucial role in Europe’s economy and food security. An agriculture and food data space could provide insights into crop health, yield predictions, supply chain efficiency, and sustainability practices. Such data could help farmers make informed decisions and contribute to more resilient and sustainable agricultural practices.

Also, I see potential in education. Education data could be used to track student performance, tailor educational content, and improve teaching methods. A data space for education could support research on effective learning strategies, enable personalized education pathways, and contribute to the development of future educational technologies.

Coming back to EHDS, I believe enhanced interoperability will be the biggest benefit for citizens. Enhanced interoperability will result in health professionals experiencing increased ease and effectiveness in their work. This improvement will enable them to access a patient’s medical history even across borders, leading to a more substantial evidence base for treatment and diagnosis decisions, especially in cases where patients’ data is stored in another EU country.

Furthermore, by reinforcing interoperability to facilitate seamless data exchange among healthcare providers within and between countries, redundant tests and procedures can be avoided. This will have positive impacts on patients, as it will streamline healthcare processes and reduce healthcare costs.

Moreover, facilitating a more direct and reliable method of acquiring data access within a secure framework will be highly advantageous for research and development in Europe. This practice has the potential to enhance patient safety, drive the creation of new medicinal products and medical devices, and contribute to the advancement of personalized medicine. EU-wide action is necessary and appropriate, to promote the free, cross-border flows of personal health data and to foster a genuine internal market for personal health data and digital health products and services.

The biggest challenge will be to make sure that system effectively works by exchanging big amounts of data while at the same time safeguarding privacy and data protection of our citizens. Also, in all phases of EHDS the process should be as transparent as possible. All secondary use access to the requested electronic health data for instance, should be done through a secure processing environment. In order to ensure strong technical and security safeguards for the electronic health data, the health data access bodies should provide access to such data only in a secure processing environment, complying with the high technical and security standards set in the legislative proposal.

*EP Co-Rapporteur on European Health Data Space Opportunities and challenges of a European health data space