In a recent article on cross-border healthcare (“Have illness, will travel?”, 24-30 March), you looked ahead to the directive on cross-border healthcare, which has since been formally adopted, and wrote that “relatively few people are expected to take advantage of the law”, noting that current cross-border care is worth €10 billion, less than 1% of current healthcare spending”.
But, even if they do not travel abroad for treatment, the directive should be of interest to any EU citizen who thinks it is reasonable that the information that he or she can get before a hip replacement or a cataract operation should be at least as least as good as the information he or she would get when buying a new car.
The directive is relevant to all patients because, in practice, Germans (for example) will expect their government and hospital administrators to provide information about treatment in Germany that is at least as good as the information that, thanks to the directive, they will be entitled to receive about treatments abroad.
The EU now expects every government to establish user-friendly internet portals with information about rights as well as the quality of care, patient safety systems, medical guidelines, reporting of side effects and so forth.
All hospitals (there are 14,000 in the EU) that meet the quality criteria will be listed – in effect, we are seeing the beginning of a pan-EU standard of rating. Even price information will be in the system – a transparency breakthrough unknown to most Europeans. This will be the beginning of the formation of an EU healthcare industry.
This information will be available to everyone regardless of whether they travel abroad for treatment or not – and this information will change the perception of healthcare. Power will move farther in the direction of the consumers. For the first time, consumers – you and I – will be able to make well-informed choices, comparing the offerings from hospitals in their own and other EU countries. Where is there a documented risk of hospital infections? Does the hospital publish patient satisfaction comments? How experienced is the team operating on me? Will I be able to look at my electronic medical record?
Such information will raise expectations and push up the quality of services. It will also save lives, reduce suffering and cut costs.
There are many governments (and hospital managements) that do not like this idea. Transparency will reveal black holes, malpractice and quality deficiencies. So, while every member state is expected to have the new system operational by the end of 2013, we can expect some countries to be slow.
This whole operation will be a challenge – and a great opportunity – for the European information society. Patients and consumers will need to be alert, urging authorities and hospitals to provide information in a user-friendly fashion to form this new transparent system of European healthcare.