European services standard for cross-border healthcare provision agreed

Two European projects developing IT-based services for cross-border healthcare provision, TEN4Health and NetC@rds, have agreed on a common European web service specification supporting standardised messaging to link hospitals and other health care providers with health insurance organisations and with national healthcare IT infrastructure. The common web services are specified in WSDL and messaging is XML-based. The development of the services and this agreement are seen as a major step towards full interoperability in web-services provision throughout European health care. The new services help ensure that any European citizen requiring healthcare in another European country can be served easily, that health care providers can reliably determine that a patient is covered by health insurance and rapidly receive reimbursement. For health insurance organisations offering these services it is seen as a market discriminator, positively distinguishing them from competitors in the growing and increasingly competitive European health insurance market.

“With this agreement we are paving the way for a European standard supporting the necessary communication and data exchange processes for cross-border healthcare in Europe” said Pascal Collotte, project officer at the European Commission DG Information Society and Media responsible for both projects, co-funded in the eTEN programme.

AOK Rheinland / Hamburg, a large German health insurance company with around 3 million customers, and Techniker Krankenkasse (TK) have already developed and operate a web portal providing similar services for their joint 10 million customers. The service is operational in hospitals in Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands and in process of introduction in Italy and the Czech Republic. Now that this agreement is in place the AOK/TK service is being modified to fully conform to the new European WSDL and XML messaging standard.

Hans-Willi Schemken, responsible at AOK for technical developments in TEN4Health, emphasised the progress made and the importance of this achievement in his company's strategy in supporting customers travelling in Europe. “Web services based on European WSDL and XML messaging have already been implemented in Austria and are operating successfully at Landeskrankenhaus Villach. We are now going to replace all web portal services with the newly standardised web services in the different European countries as we expand our cross-border healthcare service provision in Europe. Many other health insurance companies are showing an interest in also offering this service and five further German insurance companies have already joined our initiative, extending the customer base to 16 million.” He continued in saying: “We are on a successful route to providing real cross-border healthcare services to our customers and supporting the health care providers in the different countries in service provision and the associated online reimbursement and billing processes.”

Magister Karl Wulz, director of IT at Landeskrankenhaus Villach (Austria) reported that the service has resulted in a substantial streamlining of all administrative processes and in a significant increase in payment speed to hospitals, down from one to two years to less than two months.

"AOK Rheinland/Hamburg and European projects like TEN4Health have managed to develop and successfully operate citizen services for borderless healthcare in and across countries of the European Union to the benefit of the patients, the hospitals, and the insurance organisations", said Werner B. Korte of the TEN4Health project coordinator empirica GmbH, summarising these recent developments.