Cross-border Healthcare in Europe…
Promoting Patients’ Rights and Boosting Cooperation
European citizens enjoy a variety of rights when it comes to intra-EU mobility, including the right to seek care in another Member State. Directive 2011/24/EU on patients’ rights in cross-border healthcare codifies patients’ right to receive health treatment, including planned procedures, in another Member State (MS) and to then get reimbursed domestically up to the level that would have been covered by their home State. However, almost three years after the deadline for transposition of the Directive into national law, and despite the data showing that about half of the EU citizens would be open to the idea of travelling abroad to receive treatment (Eurobarometer on Patient Rights, published in 2015), the actual levels of patient mobility for planned healthcare are still relatively low, with cross-border healthcare accounting for approximately1% of the total EU public healthcare spending.
Reasons for the under-utilisation of this tool of citizen empowerment can be detected in a significant information gap and lack of awareness by patients of the Directive itself, as well as of instruments such as the National Contact Points (NCPs), with only one in ten Europeans being informed about them. Other critical aspects to be refined are reimbursement schemes and prior authorization procedures, which differ by MS and may deter patients who seek care abroad. Further, the latest Commission report analysing MS’s data on cross-border healthcare for the year 2015 indicates that Europeans tend to be wary of language barriers and the cost of care abroad.
The realization of the full potential of the Directive’s provisions is still in development. As recently as March 2017, the Commission launched the European Reference Networks (ERNs), creating cross-border virtual networks of healthcare providers across the EU to tackle rare diseases and conditions. This pooling of knowledge and resources will allow interaction among professionals and medical specialists grouped by specialty, hopefully leading to advancements and improved care for all. Additionally, the potential of telemedicine and e-health, including trans-nationally valid e-prescriptions, is still largely untapped, and barriers include lack of interoperability and confidentiality needs.