What is UEHP and what is the role of private hospitals across Europe?
“UEHP is a non-profit organisation established in 1991, representing around 5.000 private hospitals accredited by contract with Social Insurances all over Europe. Our members are national private hospital federations in 17 European Countries. It is estimated that the private hospitals in Europe represent the 20% of the global market, a healthcare alternative that has become indispensable for the citizens. Our aim is to help generate the political and economic conditions towards the improvement of the independent initiative in the health field. Moreover, UEHP studies and creates better conditions for the smooth management of independent hospitals. The priority of the UEHP is to promote high quality healthcare focused on the patient, with key activities such as:
- Coordinating initiatives for the free establishment of independent healthcare facilities in the Common Market, as well as promoting the internal market in the field of healthcare;
- Studying of the conditions for participation of independent hospitals in the social hospital service in the countries of the European Union.
UEHP is convinced that freedom of choice for patients, freedom of practice for doctors and healthy competition are guarantees for good-quality healthcare focusing on the well-being of the patient. Observing this principle in the day-by-day work means making the voice of private hospitals heard at all levels, that is institutional level, among partners and stakeholders, sharing experiences and success studies, more in general bringing the issues of the private sector on the political agenda of the European Union.”
The European Union directive 2011/24 should enable free circulation of patients within the territory. What is the situation? Can EU patients really cross borders freely to look for better or faster care?
“The Directive 2011/24/EU on patients’ rights in cross-border healthcare established the legal framework for patients seeking care outside their home countries, with the aim of improving the sustainability of our healthcare systems while protecting patients’ rights at all stages of the treatment. UEHP believes that the freedom of choice can stimulate a fair competition in healthcare among the different countries in Europe, thus contributing to the improvement of quality of care and sustainability of National healthcare systems. Also, private hospitals in Europe recognise the huge potential of the cross-border Directive, with a particular focus on:
- Reducing waiting lists
- Overcoming the rigid separation of NHS
- Improving quality standards of care
However, the real implementation of the Directive is affected by a set of issues, experienced by all countries in EU. The report on the state of play of the Cross-border Healthcare Directive, published by the European Commission at the end of 2015, has reported that the main obstacles are:
- Poor citizens awareness of their rights and lack of clear, structured and comprehensive information for patients
- Lack of cooperation and communication with Ministries and NCPs
- Administrative burden and time to handle the requests
- Language barriers and dialogue among NCPs
- Low reimbursement tariffs
- Compulsory prior authorization for special treatments and hospitalisation
Despite all the efforts made at EU and national level so far, we notice that the path for patients seeking healthcare abroad is still difficult and their rights hardly respected, especially when it comes to patients affected by rare diseases. There is a clear need for improved communication, as well as more integration in healthcare, enhancing cooperation between all the actors involved at all levels.”
How is Health Tourism evolving inside the European Union? What are the main flows of patients and what motivates them?
“The use of healthcare abroad is not a new phenomenon. However, the global evolution in the flow of patients and health practicians as well as medical technology across national borders has changed the way healthcare services are offered to patients. Cross-border regions are performing very well (e.g. Benelux) because they have a long tradition in sending and hosting patients for different treatments. Some other countries are trying to attract foreign patients, by offering low prices for very specialised services (e.g. rehabilitation in Portugal). Speaking about patients’ motivations to seek care abroad, we must point out that “necessity” is very often the first reason. Everyone prefers to be treated in his home country, in his natural language, with the full support of his family and friends, but in many cases this is not possible for a set of reasons, among wich we identify:
- long waiting lists;
- urgencies (that may occur when travelling to another country);
- availability of cross-border highly-specialised clinics and hospitals;
- lack of specialised care in the home country;
- lack of advanced technologies required for some pathologies in the home country;
- lack of expertise in the home country;
- rare diseases.”
Medical Tourism from outside EU often depends largely on bureaucracy and visas. In the present International situation is it getting more difficult to pursue healthcare? What kind of cooperation is needed to ease the process?
“Well, from our perspective, the major obstacle private hospitals are encounting when trying to attract new patients from outside EU, is mostly related to the stability of international relations and their economic impact. Our hospitals are trying to elaborate a strategy wich could ensure a certain stability in the flow of patients coming to Europe for treatments, as a result of their huge investments in new departements, new infrastructures and more qualified and specialised healthcare workforce.”