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Estonia and Finland enter patient data sharing agreement

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Data sharing in healthcare is a topic I've touched on a number of times recently, with a recent paper from the European Commission highlighting some of the benefits, and challenges, of doing so, with a number of fascinating case studies from across Europe.

Estonia have been at the vanguard of the open health data movement for a few years now, so it's perhaps no surprise that they recently announced a plan to share patient data with their neighbor Finland.

The plans have been in gestation for a while, with an announcement made last summer to develop a roadmap for data sharing between the two countries, with an eventual platform created for the automatic exchange of data in various fields, including population registers, e-prescriptions and social benefit data.

Mutual sharing

The plan allows for the databases of both countries to be mutually available, thus supporting cross-border access to things such as digital prescriptions in the coming year, before then progressing to full medical records by 2018-2019.

The move is a welcome one, and is part of the wider Zeitgeist of connecting up health systems, and health data, so that people, and indeed researchers, have access to all of the data in one place.

"People move around more and more therefore data about their health should always be with them. This way they're able to use the best services from different countries, or live where they desire, without the loss of important healthcare services," said the Deputy Secretary General on E-services Development and Innovation Ain Aaviksoo.

Securing the data

The team behind the project are focusing heavily on security to ensure that the privacy of patients is not compromised, but they are steadfast that the first step of any privacy agenda should be ensuring people have control over their own data.

"Ensuring privacy and security starts with giving people real control over their healthcare data. Actually, this could be made to suit any country's combination of law, information technology, and information management applications. The only real technological challenge is the lack of standards to connect all of the necessary data in a suiting way, but in my opinion, this is a question of political will," they say.

Suffice to say, whilst the plans are fantastic, they do at the moment only cover official medical data. They aren't designed to incorporate the growing volume of data that we generate ourselves from mobile apps, wearable devices and even genome sequencing.

Despite largely operating independently of each other, innovators are already achieving some great things. By pulling them together and enabling greater collaboration, we really can achieve some incredible things. Where Estonia leads, the rest of the world needs to follow suit.

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