Electing Health – the Europe we want

For a long time the influence of the European Union (EU) on healthcare policy was considered marginal – but this has changed radically since 2010, says Professor Scott L Greer, political scientist at the University of Michigan and specialist in European healthcare policy.

Report: Michael Krassnitzer

‘The EU has become a major part of health policy making, not because of the extension of the health mandate in the Treaty, but because of the extension of EU fiscal powers into health,’ he explained. ‘The EU has become a healthcare policy actor because health is expensive and today the EU monitors compliance with EU fiscal policy, Prof. Greer explained during the 17th European Health Forum Gastein, in October, themed ‘Electing Health – The Europe We Want’.

Then how do we measure the efficiency of healthcare systems? This question lay among the major posers for experts at the Forum – and, coincidentally, health system performance was one of the three health policy focus areas the EU recently announced..

Measuring the efficiency of healthcare systems is tricky: ‘We have evidence that certain measures work,’ said Dr Peter Smith, Emeritus Professor of Health Policy at London’s Imperial College Business School. ‘For instance, sharpening competition among providers can lead to improvement and better IT systems in hospitals lead to better performance. New models of integrated services work well, particularly for chronic diseases; if stroke patients are well looked after by their primary care physician, this significantly improves not only life expectancy but also health costs.’

Nevertheless, this is puzzling. Some countries perform much better than the OECD average, but the experts, Professor Smith concedes, ‘often find it difficult to identify the exact underlying mechanisms’.

The next step towards more efficient healthcare systems is ‘a new generation of health data’, said Francesca Colombo MSc, Head of the OECD Health Division. ‘This is a topic that all governments are working on – the huge opportunities created by linking a large variety and volume of data from medical health records, biological data and administration data.’ However, we must understand, she stresses, that it is not necessarily the data as such that are of interest, but the overall picture that is generated when these data are interlinked. That’s easier said than done. Very often, we lack the structures to compile the data from several sources and we lack the resources to analyse the data, said Michel Van Hoegarden, MSc, Programme Manager of the Joint Action on Health Workforce Planning and Forecasting: ‘It’s not that we have too little data, we have too much data.’

One solution might be the quick implementation of eHealth – another ubiquitous issue at this year‘s EHFG. ‘There is now an urgent need to implement available solutions in eHealth and telemedicine. It’s time to stop hesitating.’ This was the parting message from Dr Pēteris Zilgalvis, Head of Unit Health and Wellbeing in the European Commission’s DG Communications Networks, Content and Technology (CONNECT). He is convinced that eHealth can be a crucial driver of increased quality, cost efficiency, productivity and growth in the healthcare sector. ‘Telemedicine is a key element in forward-looking healthcare systems faced with an increased prevalence of chronic diseases and cost-intensity of health services from growing demand and resource scarcity. eHealth can be the driving force in implementing innovative models and products that enhance equality of opportunity in accessing health facilities as well as their management.’

10.11.2014

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