Study Finds European Healthcare

In spite of the financial crisis, healthcare across Europe continues to improve, with consumer empowerment motivating advances in quality and access.

However, the distribution of cancer drugs within the UK is still “deplorable,” states a new review, presented at the European Parliament in Brussels.

The Netherlands appears first in the latest Euro Health Consumer Index (EHCI) survey of Europe healthcare systems, which ranks the countries on 42 different criteria covering five main areas: patient rights and information; accessibility of treatment (waiting times); medical outcomes; range and reach of services provided; and pharmaceuticals.

The Dutch structure, which has come first for the third successive time and has an increasing margin, scored 872 points out of a total possible 1,000, and was followed by Denmark, Iceland, Luxembourg and Belgium.

The UK has climbed to 12th position from 14th in the previous survey in 2009, with 721 points, ranking in-between Ireland and Austria.  The report observed that the UK currently provides some of the best access to healthcare information and use of e-health facilities in Europe, and there have been major improvements in the array and spread of services, and in healthcare equity.  “Increased government spending on the NHS has paid off,” the EHCI noted.

Yet although waiting times have improved to a certain degree, the UK still remains in “healthcare waiting time territory,” while medical results are still inadequate for a highly-developed country and infant immunisations appear to have fallen behind, the study notes.

In the successful areas of “healthcare Europe,” there has been a steady increase of consumer influence, notes Health Consumer Powerhouse (HCP), who compiled the report. Patients’ rights are improving across multiple countries, information to help consumers steer healthcare is developing and approaches to simplify access, such as e-prescriptions and booking appointments online, are becoming increasingly common.

The power gap between medical experts and patients/consumers is narrowing, and dependable pharmaceutical websites for the public have spread to most European countries, “undermining the Big Brother attitude that information about medicines from manufacturers is a dangerous thing,” comments the HCP, adding that “our conclusion is that user-friendliness has become a major quality performance driver in healthcare.”

But in spite of the overall improvement, the report also observes indication of lengthier waiting times for elective surgery in countries most affected by the economic downturn, somewhat larger out-of-pocket contributions by patients to their healthcare services, and a lack of improvement and even a drop in access to new treatment.

Additionally, the research also found a large cluster of under-performing countries where access is far behind, not only for heart surgery and new cancer medication but also for basic services such as infant vaccination and mammography.

Investments by the European Union have to date have had little equalising effect, says the Health Consumer Powerhouse, with the divide between the top countries and the weakest countries still growing.


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