Increased patient mobility calls for EU healthcare review

Christel Schaldemose says reducing disparities between and within member states is crucial to securing patients' rights in cross-border healthcare.

By Christel Schaldemose

Christel Schaldemose is the Chair of the Delegation for relations with Japan

27 Jul 2015

The 2011 adoption of the EU directive on patients' rights in cross-border healthcare was a big step forward for Europe's citizens.

Initiatives such as the creation of European reference networks (ERN) and collaboration on eHealth will have an impact on how EU healthcare systems work together and on their ability to better respond to future challenges.

In November last year, I hosted a roundtable on the future of healthcare together with researchers from DNV GL - a Norwegian organisation providing standards to safety critical sectors - the Danish NGO Monday Morning Sustainia, representatives of the European commission and healthcare stakeholders.


Our discussions were part of a broader initiative entitled 'A journey towards co-creating healthcare' with the aim of helping bridge the gap between systemic healthcare challenges and the opportunities, solutions and people that are creating the healthcare systems of tomorrow, today.

From our discussions we concluded that one of the key opportunities for EU health systems is the ability to share best practice and learn from each other. Collaboration and knowledge sharing across the EU policy context holds great promise for addressing some of the similar challenges we face in our countries.

A change of approach to healthcare is also needed. A greater focus should be placed on the use of proactive systems-thinking to reduce hospital stay, as it can considerably help healthcare systems facing the challenges of chronic diseases, ageing populations and budgetary constraints.

Thanks to the creation of the ERN, we will be able to share the best available expertise to treat patients from all over the EU. Even though as citizens we still look to our local healthcare provider to help us when in need, more EU cooperation can also improve the quality of treatment received at home.

The commission's recently released Eurobarometer on patients' rights in cross-border healthcare in the EU showcased European citizens' experience with this ambitious legislation.

According to the survey, only five per cent of respondents received healthcare treatment while abroad. Sadly, among the key reasons respondents gave for seeking healthcare treatment while in another member state was the lack of treatment in their country and the better quality of treatment available elsewhere.

If patients are to be able to make an informed choice in deciding where to seek healthcare, then information on the quality and standards of that healthcare should be freely available to all.

There is no doubt that good EU policy initiatives will help healthcare to become more efficient, reactive and sustainable in the future, but only if we are prepared to address the need for systems improvement within and between member states.

I am also happy to refer you to the report 'The states of healthcare' by Monday Morning Sustainia which analyses the Co-Creating Healthcare project and gives a complete overview of the state of healthcare in Europe and beyond, including China and the US.

It focuses on seven quality dimensions of healthcare: equity, safety, person-centred care, effectiveness, cost-efficiency, timeliness and environmental sustainability. This is just the beginning of this long, exciting journey and I am happy to take it with me to the European parliament.

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