26th Jun 2017

Quality gap in health care between east and west Europe

There is a persistent gap in the quality of health sectors between "old" EU member states and new countries in central and eastern Europe, with the best and most patient-friendly hospitals in Austria, the Netherlands and France, and the worst recorded in Latvia, Bulgaria and Poland.

A report evaluating the health services in 29 countries - the EU member states plus Switzerland and Norway - was unveiled on Monday (1 October) by the Health Consumer Powerhouse, a Brussels-based group specialising in health care research.

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  • All countries need to further improve on their health care, says the study (Photo: wikipedia)

The authors of the study measured the performance of healthcare systems in five categories which are key to the consumer, such as patients' rights and information, waiting times for common treatments, care outcomes, the generosity of the system and access to medication.

The 2007 table is topped by Austria, as the country with Europe's most consumer-friendly health care, due to a "combination of widespread access to treatment and excellence in outcomes," for example in cancer treatment.

Although not leading any single category, Vienna gathered the most points (806 out of 1000) altogether, with last year's winner, France, slipping to third place. The Netherlands, top in 2005, comes in at second place this year.

However, the researchers suggest that there is a tiny difference between the top three countries plus Switzerland and Germany and only "very subtle changes in single scores modify the internal order" among them.

The four Nordic countries Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark come in the next cluster, with different strong points.

Sweden, for example, is EU champion for medical quality, and Denmark for respecting patient rights and providing information.

Of the "new" member states, Estonia features as the best performer in 12th place, with better results than several west European countries, such as the UK, Ireland and Italy. Cyprus and the Czech Republic perform similarly well.

However, most other newcomers come out at the bottom of the table, with Latvia getting 435 points out of 1000 and a remark by authors that it is "at this point in time lacking in resources and organisational culture to be a really consumer-adapted system."

The study points out that despite all the differences between the countries, none of them has achieved more than 80 percent of their potential, and all need further reform.

"One major challenge across Europe is to actually start measuring and calculating what health care services do, how much and how well they do it," Arne Bjornberg, author of the study, told EUobserver.

"Because traditionally what has been measured was how much money we put into health care or how many doctors we have or how many hospitals, but very little on what health care does and how well it does it," he added.

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