The Launch of the European Reference Networks

European Reference Networks (ERNs) are virtual networks involving healthcare providers (HCPs) across Europe. They aim to tackle complex or rare diseases and conditions requiring highly specialised treatment and concentration of knowledge and resources. To review a patient’s diagnosis and treatment, ERN coordinators convene ‘virtual’ advisory boards of medical specialists across different disciplines, using a dedicated IT platform and telemedicine tools. ERNs offer the potential to give patients and doctors across the European Union (EU) access to the best expertise and timely exchange of life-saving knowledge, without having to travel to another country.

Following the first call for proposals in July 2016, the first ERNs were approved in December 2016 and launched in March 2017. At their inception, the networks comprised more than 900 HCPs located in 313 hospitals in 25 Member States (plus Norway). 24 ERNs are working on a range of thematic issues. Over the next 5 years, ERNs are expected to reinforce their capacities to benefit thousands of EU patients suffering from a rare or complex condition.

The ERN initiative receives support from several EU funding programmes, including the Health Programme, the Connecting Europe Facility and Horizon 2020. EU Member States lead the ERN process: they are responsible for the recognition of centres at national level and endorse the applications. A Board of Member States is responsible for developing the EU ERN strategy and approving the Networks.

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