Internet-based health care networks are a step forward compared to first generation health care networks, which has been limited to pushing text-based messages between different systems. An Internet-based network can also pull data - and not only text but any digital data – for instance images and video sequences. The Internet-based networks can more effectively fulfil the vision of access to relevant data regardless of time and location.
Although far from identical, the health delivery systems of Denmark, Norway and Sweden are similar. They also share a shortage of specialized health personnel – not least radiologists and in some regions obstetricians. Furthermore, over the past ten years they have implemented an IT-strategy to increase efficiency in the delivery of healthcare services. Part of this strategy has been to build three national networks on top of the existing regional, secure and Internet-based healthcare networks. These national networks connect not only all hospitals in the three countries, but also a majority of the other stakeholders in the healthcare sector (GPs, private specialists, laboratories, homecare services etc.).
The organizations behind the three networks are now working on creating a Baltic Health Network (BHN), which will be one of the outcomes of the Baltic eHealth project and will not only connect the three national networks but also add two hospital networks from Lithuania and Estonia. The BHN is expected to be operational by June 2005. One of major advantages of the BHN is that the many rural hospitals of the Baltic Sea Area with a few mouse clicks can reach a specialist for second opinion in any of the approximately 200 hospitals connected to the network. For instance the midwives in the rural areas of Västerbottan County, Sweden, are awaiting the establishment of BHN to get access to second opinions from specialists at National Center for Foetal Medicine at the University Hospital of Trondheim, Norway. The BHN will remove a very important technical barrier for collaboration between health professionals and the Baltic eHealth project hopes that this and other project initiatives will facilitate the large-scale usage of second opinion from available health care experts regardless of institutional, regional and even national borders. This will lift the quality of service to patients in the Baltic Sea Region – especially in the rural areas where highly specialized health professionals tend to be geographically far away.