European healthcare decision makers’ conference

The first Joint European Hospital Conference, and the session on the Directive on patients’ rights in cross-border healthcare in particular, showed that the issue of cross-border healthcare is far from resolved but that progress can and will be made through further cooperation on a European level. Lee Campbell reports.

The aim of the first Joint European Hospital Conference, which took took place in Dusseldorf, Germany in November,  was to gather together the decision-makers in European healthcare to exchange knowledge and ideas. It was organised by the three key associations in European Healthcare EAHM, HOPE and AEMH.

Lee Cambell
Lee Cambell

Divided into two parts, the morning session focused on current European health policy with a keynote presentation by Mars Di Bartolomeo, Minister of Health and Social Affairs in Luxembourg. The afternoon was devoted to the EU Directive on Patients’ Rights and its impact on hospitals.

For Di Bartolomeo, European integration has become self-evident as a development, “we are no longer scared of European health policy.” He did however admit that the European health market had provoked some heroic disputes and confessed to resisting health being restricted to market rules. Di Bartolomeo stressed the importance of first-rate medicine for all, long-term strategies for health (including the Europe 2020 strategy) and prevention.

Representatives from the three European associations also had the opportunity to give their opinion on European healthcare policy. George Baum, President of HOPE (European Hospital and Healthcare Federation) stressed that we, as Europeans, are far too unrestricted in our movement to be denied healthcare in another country when it cannot be treated at home. He also emphasised the need for balance in the movement of health professionals and patients citing the worry that some regions will be under a greater burden than others.

He also emphasised the need for balance in the movement of health professionals and patients, citing the worry that some regions will be under a greater burden than others

To speak on behalf of the EAHM (European Association of Hospital Managers) Mr. Heinz Kölking took the floor. He highlighted current personnel issues such as increased competition with other sectors and the scarcity of people willing to work in healthcare due to new levels of complexity and the high pressure environment. For EAHM, leading and supporting staff is a key task for hospital management.

Mr. Joao de Deus, President of AEMH (European Association of Senior Hospital Physicians) stressed that although different countries have different systems and hospital models, hospitals across Europe are all prime targets for cost-saving measures. For the AEMH the key goal is patient safety and quality. This includes risk management and improved pre and post graduate medical training.

After lunch, Annika Nowak from the European Commission was tasked with quite a responsibility; explaining the Directive on patients’ rights in cross-border healthcare. Putting the longevity of this contentious issue into context she explained how there have been 12 years of European Court of Justice rulings on patient mobility from Kohll and Decker in 1998 to Elchinov in 2010. Long after its proposal in 2008, the Directive finally entered into force in April 2011. It will now go through a 30-month transposition process (until 25 October 2013) with bilateral discussions and close monitoring by the Commission.

The Hungarian perspective focused on legal issues, calling for more legal provisions in the Directive, especially regarding the use of e-health

Nowak explained the three aims of the Directive:

  • To help patients exercise their rights to reimbursement for healthcare received in another EU country.
  • To provide assurance about safety and quality of cross-border healthcare.
  • To establish formal cooperation between health systems.

The remainder of the afternoon gave Member States a chance to voice their opinions on the Directive and its impact in their countries. The UK does not expect to see a large increase in demand for healthcare from foreign patients but is concerned that longer waiting times in the UK could motivate patients to travel abroad for their care. Moving to France, Prof. Robert Nicodème from the French Medical Chamber expressed concern that healthcare personnel are missing from the Directive as are a universal set of competences to measure performance and ability.

The Hungarian perspective focused on legal issues, calling for more legal provisions in the Directive, especially regarding the use of e-health. Linguistic challenges are also not dealt with in the Directive. The representative from Greece, Dr. Kremalis agreed that there is a need for further clarification on the Directive and the healthcare provided but was confident that it is a step forward to the “Europeanisation” of healthcare.

The conference, and the session on this Directive in particular, has shown that the issue of cross-border healthcare is far from resolved but that progress can and will be made through further cooperation on a European level.