Editorial by HFE President John Bowis
We all know that the European Union’s current demographics are requiring a serious debate about the need to transform traditional healthcare systems. As patients, many of us have been calling for changes – eHealth implementation, access to care in the community, greater focus and accessibility to preventive services – but fundamental change of healthcare delivery lags behind our desires as consumers of health services. How much more patient should we be as patients? When will the focus of health policy shift to towards the patient and away from acute-only treatment?
It’s time for genuine community care policy
The current economic difficulties faced by many European governments should force policymakers to reconsider traditional methods of healthcare spending and preferences and look for transformative policies to increase efficiency without sacrificing high quality care. This can and should be done via a strong commitment to community care policy. Patients want care closer to home. Patients want access to healthcare professionals, products and services outside of acute settings. Patients want to be able to use the latest innovative tools and technologies to manage their health and well-being.
While austerity is being used by some to prevent such structural reforms, community care should be seen as a solution to healthcare sustainability – not a barrier. Genuinely investing in health, by looking at the long term benefits rather than the short term cost savings, will support the evolution of innovative and patient centered healthcare systems and result ultimately in a healthier, more productive population.
How do we get to there?
The variation and uniqueness of each national health system in Europe means that implementation of community care policy will be done in different ways across the continent. Yet the challenges faced by Member States can be managed and facilitated by the exchange of information to allow Member States to learn from each other in terms of policy implementation. We need to have a strong leader driving policy on a pan-European level which is why the Commission is ideally placed to bring community care onto the EU public health policy agenda. We should focus on what the EU can do, rather than what it can’t.
The EU can support the acceleration and standardization of sub-components of community care services such as the use ICT in devises (e.g. medical records and communication protocols).
The EU can encourage innovative healthcare systems through the recognition of the value of innovation in approval processes for products, services and work place environments and develop assessment methods to showcase the overall value of community care services.
The EU can share best practices for dedicated innovative financing schemes across health and social care and promote options that result in improved outcomes for patients.
The EU can facilitate recognition of the opportunities for healthcare professionals in a dynamic community care system and leverage schemes which better support informal carers.
We’ve been patient
With the beginning of a new political term; now is an ideal time for the EU to step up and take the lead on community care policy. Community care will require multi-level action from multiple stakeholders to adapt to market and societal demands. The EU should not sit passively but rather pave the way towards community care centered policies for all Member States.
We recognize that national governments will remain the driving forces behind healthcare policies at national, regional and local levels, the EU’s involvement is key to any reform of consequence. And as patients, we are ready.