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European Commission

The European Reference Networks (ERN) go back to the EU’s Cross-Border Healthcare Directive from 2011. Now, in 2017, the ERNs for rare and complex diseases are becoming a palpable reality. They will establish virtual communication channels for medical specialists from different European Member States. Hopefully, they will also help to stimulate national discussions about reimbursement models of telemedicine in general.

Cross-border teleconsultations and other co-operation scenarios between highly specialised medical experts from different countries are not actually new in Europe. So far, though, they have mostly taken place under the umbrella of bilateral agreements, or within joint projects in specific fields over limited periods of time. The 24 European Reference Networks, that will now be established from 2017 onwards, have a wider scope, says Vytenis Andriukaitis, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety at the European Commission (EC) in Brussels: “The goal is to create sustainable virtual networks for cross-border co-operation in rare or low prevalence complex diseases that require highly specialised healthcare.”

The ERNs will officially be launched by the European Commission in Vilnius in March 2017. Getting that far has required quite a lot of preparation. Elaborating the legal framework as required by the Cross-Border Healthcare Directive took several years. It establishes a set of criteria which the highly specialised healthcare providers have to fulfill to take part in the ERNs. DG SANTE organised the evaluation of the proposals by an independent assessment body that delivered its final report in November 2016.

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