Allowing citizens to easily access online e-health services is a major goal of the majority of countries in Europe. Despite this, the implementation of such mega projects is still a distant dream for most countries of the continent. In fact, new data from the European Commission e-government standard It reveals that while access to most public services online has generally improved, the digital divide between the countries surveyed remains when it comes to the provision of digital healthcare services.
Covering the 27 EU member states, EFTA countries including Iceland, Norway and Switzerland, and EU candidate countries such as Albania, North Macedonia and Turkey, the report analyzed more than 14,000 government websites to measure access levels for citizens across Europe. Perhaps not surprisingly, given their well-established reputation for digital innovation and strong civil societies, countries in Scandinavia and Central Europe ranked highly in most categories, along with technological powers in Eastern Europe such as Estonia.
However, one of the prominent participants was Malta. The Mediterranean country is better known for its booming tourism trade than for its nascent culture, yet it has yet to establish a strong reputation for innovation in digital government services. However, data from Benchmark reveals that at least nine out of every ten government services in Malta can be found via a government portal, with users able to access these services without having to print out application forms or visit a government services office in person. In fact, while other European countries struggle to launch their own digital identity systems, more than 90% of government services in Malta can be accessed through the national digital identity system.
Malta’s success in e-government is largely due to its long-term investments in information technology. Back in 2014, she launched Malta’s digital strategy, a vision for the islands to thrive as a “digitally enabled nation across all sectors of society,” with a particular focus on the use of ICTs to improve access to health care and social services, improve education across demographics, and create high-quality jobs. Building on this momentum three years later, the state launched €40 million CONvErGE . project To enhance the emerging e-government program by developing new systems and platforms for the tourism sector and disaster response, as well as building the national health infrastructure dubbed “eHealth”.
Professor Ernest Kachia, Dean of the School of Information and Communications Technology at the University of Malta, explains that the physical size of the islands – which together make up an area five times smaller than London – has also been a key factor behind Malta’s success in driving digital government initiatives. “There is a whole range of government services but on a smaller scale, so we can get back results faster,” says Cachia. “There are advantages to being small.”
Data from the e-government benchmark also shows that two other relatively small countries, Estonia and Luxembourg, came after Malta as the countries with the highest scores for digital government services. Technology Monitor I have already reported the case of countries like Estonia Leading e-government services such as digital identity systemsoften through innovative projects such as Hackathon nationwideDevelopers from all over the world were invited to participate.
While size may not be the primary determinant behind a country’s success in providing digital government services, it can play an important role in allowing countries to react quickly and efficiently in the face of emerging trends. Study by nesta On how innovation occurs in five countries with a population of less than ten million, he came to a similar conclusion. Lacking significant local markets, or the scope to be at the forefront of research in every field, they made the most of their existing advantages, and developed others, the report’s authors wrote.
The success of these countries, of course, is not shared equally across the European bloc. According to the data in the e-government standard, while citizens’ access to online public services has become easier in 77% of European countries, major e-health services are still in their infancy. Only three countries – again, Malta, Luxembourg and Estonia – have e-health maturity scores of over 90%, meaning that citizens in these three countries are well supported by health-related digital services.
Analysis of Benchmark data also shows that at least eight countries have an e-health maturity score of less than 50%, which, on the contrary, means that people in these countries need to resort to non-digital methods to access certain healthcare services. In Albania for example, citizens will not be able to obtain a European Health Insurance Card online or apply for electronic health records. Similarly in Austria, remote consultations with doctors are not available and citizens do not have access to digital means to register and reschedule hospital appointments. At the same time, in France and Germany, efforts to create online services for obtaining an “electronic prescription” from a hospital doctor lag behind their counterparts in Spain and Italy.
Inequality in access to these key health services is even more pronounced when it comes to immigrants. Survey data from Benchmark shows that only non-citizens can access three out of ten services (34%) online, with a lack of English information on hospital websites being the biggest obstacle. While the maturity of digital government services has advanced since the pandemic, there is still room for improvement, explains Mark Reinhardt, head of public sector and health at IT consultancy Capgemini.
Reconciling the gap when it comes to the provision of e-health services will be a major challenge for EU countries in the next few years, and there are clear indications that the regional bloc is taking the development of e-government services seriously. In July, EU member states agreed to a Milestones Policy Program To achieve digital transformation across the region, with the aim of helping countries achieve transformation goals enshrined in the Digital 2030 Compass – a set of policies covering digital skills and infrastructure. But an analysis of the goals set by the European Union to improve the bloc’s digital infrastructure in all areas shows that member states have a long way to go.
While improving digital literacy is not too far from the goals set for 2030, other aspects of EU plans such as improving access to 5G, for example, are still far away. Countries such as Denmark and Finland have already come close to meeting their targets regarding the share of SMEs with a “basic level of digital density”, but others such as Romania and Bulgaria are still lagging behind. It remains to be seen if EU member states that have proven successful in introducing digital government initiatives can distribute the resources and expertise across the region.