On 23 December 2016, the European Commission issued a call for highly–qualified professionals to form European Reference Networks (“ERN”) and provide cost-efficient and high-quality specialized healthcare across the European Union.
Forming European Reference Networks
European Reference Networks (“ERN”) for rare, low prevalence and complex diseases are research and knowledge centres, where the latest scientific findings and treatments are performed. They ensure the availability of subsequent treatment facilities where necessary.
The formation of ERNs are intended to contribute to provision of cross-border healthcare services provided in Directive 2011/24/EC on the application of patients’ rights in cross-border healthcare. As such they are a part of establishing sustainable eHealth capabilities.
Among the objectives of forming ERNs are to link the various professionals who possess the knowledge and expertise to diagnose, follow-up and manage patients with evidence of good outcomes. The aim is to follow a multi-disciplinary approach, offering high level of expertise with the capacity to produce good practice guidelines. The work of the ERNs contributes to research, teaching and training activities, and most importantly, links centres of expertise and networks at national and international level.
European Commission’s preparatory work
Previously conducted mapping work by the European Commission provided the foundation highlighting various areas of specific medical expertise already existing across the European Union. This exercise also identified ERNs for rare and low prevalence and complex diseases that are currently in a pilot stage.
The mapping exercise consisted of four specific elements: a) systematic literature review; b) review of benchmark procedures, standards, criteria, scoring systems, policies, procedures, processes, award or decision guidelines, audit processes and methodologies; c) written consultation questionnaire survey of member states; and d) on-site visits to a sample of 10 EU Member States.
The review demonstrated that the organization of services of highly specialized healthcare providers, centers of expertise and their supporting clinical networks in existing national or regional healthcare systems vary widely.
Call for interest for highly specialized healthcare professionals
The objective of the present call for interest is to facilitate improvements in access to diagnosis and delivery of high-quality, accessible and cost-efficient healthcare in cases where patients have a medical condition that requires a particular concentration of expertise or resources, particularly in medical domains where these expertise are rare.
A call for interest is the first stage in a six-stage procedure. It will be followed by application process, determination of eligibility for assessment, technical assessment of proposed ERNs and member applicants, transfer of assessment report to the European Commission and as the last stage, the approval of proposed ERN and member applicants.
For the approval of the networks a public call for interest will be launched by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety (DG SANTE) in 2016.