Newsletter 205 - State of Health in the EU

Health-EU Newsletter 205 - Focus

How to keep our citizens healthy – The European Commission diagnoses the State of Health in the EU

How can EU health systems remain fit-for-purpose in terms of their effectiveness, accessibility and resilience? European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Vytenis Andriukaitis looks at some of the Commission's findings, based on lessons learned during the two-year 'State of Health in the EU' cycle. The Commission has just published 28 Country Health Profiles, along with a Companion Report, which together provide an in-depth assessment of EU countries' health systems.

What was the purpose of compiling these reports?

The reports reveal common challenges faced by EU health systems. By offering comprehensive data and insights, they aim to support national health authorities in tackling these challenges and in making the right policy and investment choices.

How were the reports prepared?

The Country Health Profiles were prepared in close cooperation with the OECD and the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies. The Commission's Companion Report reflects shared policy objectives across the Member States and reveals potential areas where the Commission can encourage mutual learning and exchange of good practice.

What were the key findings?

A rethink of our understanding about health in policy making is needed. Member States face very similar challenges. We've observed five broad shifts that are taking place, which require all of us to strengthen our efforts. In brief, these are:

  • 1. Health promotion and disease prevention
    Only around 3% of health budgets are being spent on prevention, yet non-communicable diseases, which are often preventable, account for up to 80% of health care costs. Pro-active investment in promoting healthy lifestyles and tackling major risk factors such as alcohol drinking, smoking and physical inactivity would greatly reduce the burden of non-communicable diseases, saving lives and also money.

  • 2. Strong primary care
    One out of four of patients goes straight to the hospital when they have a health problem because they do not have access to primary care when they need it, putting a real strain on hospitals. Making good primary care easily accessible to everyone and by enshrining promotion and prevention in primary care would reduce the burden on acute care.

  • 3. Integrated care
    It is not unusual for patients to have more than one health concern, especially as they age. They often have to navigate through a maze of health services to seek help, instead of getting support and guidance through integrated care. Health professionals need to work together and the infrastructure needs to allow them to do so much more easily.

  • 4. Proactive health workforce and good planning
    We need a healthy health workforce to have healthy health systems. Strengthening the role of primary care, focusing more on prevention and promotion and integrating health care services will all require proactive planning and forecasting to make the health workforce more resilient to future evolutions.

  • 5. Patient-centred health data
    We know very little about patient outcomes beyond life and death. How does a certain disease hamper someone's daily activities? How did a treatment improve someone's quality of life? We need more patient-centred health data about experiences and outcomes, and new technologies go a long way to help make this possible.

What will be done now that the first State of Health in the EU cycle is coming to an end?

Member States now have the opportunity, on a voluntary basis, to take the "next step" and meet with the experts who prepared these reports. And although this cycle is over, another one has just begun. As new reports will be produced over the next two years, it's our hope that they increasingly reflect real advances and shift in how we think about health, especially in other policy areas.