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The ERN initiative

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Text source: European Commission 

European Reference Networks (ERNs) are unique and innovative cross-border cooperation platforms between specialists for the diagnosis and treatment of rare or low prevalence complex diseases.

Over 300 hospitals ; over 900 healthcare units ; thousands of patients helped by 2020.  Patients get treatment through national healthcare providers, who are advised by specific ERNs. Those ERNs provide clinical guidelines, research and innovation knowledge, tools for training and e-learning, and generate and share evidence.  ERNs allow for better care and diagnosis, new treatments, better data, capacity building, generating evidence, equal access, and economy of scale.


Health systems in the European Union aim to provide high-quality, cost-effective care. This is particularly difficult however, in cases of rare or low-prevalence complex diseases which affect the daily lives of around 30million EU citizens.

European Reference Networks (ERNs) are virtual networks involving healthcare providers across Europe. They aim to facilitate discussion on complex or rare diseases and conditions that require highly specialized treatment, and concentrated knowledge and resources.

How does it work?

To review a patient’s diagnosis and treatment, ERN coordinators convene ‘virtual’ advisory panels of medical specialists across different disciplines, using a dedicated IT platform and telemedicine tools.

The process and criteria for establishing an ERN and for selecting its members are set in EU legislation.

  • Check ERN brochure for more information

24 Networks

The first ERNs were launched in March 2017, involving today more than 1600 highly-specialized healthcare units from 24 EU countries and Norway. 24 ERNs are working on a range of thematic issues including bone disorders, childhood cancer and immunodeficiency.


The ERN initiative receives support from several EU funding programmes, including the Health Programme, the Connecting Europe Facility and Horizon 2020.

Communication material

Videos about ERNs

(All languages here)
(All languages here)