About European Reference Networks

European Reference Networks (ERNs) are virtual networks involving Reference Centres across Europe. They aim to tackle complex or rare diseases and conditions, that require highly specialised treatment and concentrated knowledge and resources. Rare patient cases can be discussed by a ‘virtual’ advisory board of medical specialists across different countries and disciplines in a dedicated and secure IT platform, constructed by the EU Commission specifically for ERNs. This way it is the medical knowledge and expertise that travel, rather than the patients, who have the comfort of staying in their supportive home environments.

The European Reference Networks (ERNs) gather doctors and researchers with high expertise in the fields of rare or low-prevalence and complex diseases.

ERNs are based on directive 2011/24/EU of the European Parliament. The European Union provides rules for facilitating the access to safe and high-quality cross-border healthcare and promotes cooperation on healthcare between Member States. Health systems in the European Union aim to provide high-quality, cost-effective care, but this is particularly difficult with rare or low-prevalence complex diseases or conditions. Between 5,000 and 8,000 rare diseases affect the daily lives of around 30 million people in the EU. ERNs were constructed in order to provide this same quality of care for patients with rare conditions.


Animation clip for patients and health professionals

This video explains to patients affected by rare, low prevalence and complex diseases what the ERNs are and how they might support them to identify diagnosis or treatment, in the case their health professional considers the support of the ERNs is needed.

“No country alone has the knowledge and capacity to treat all rare and complex conditions”