Newsletter 228 - Cross-border Healthcare

Health-EU newsletter 228 - Focus

Are EU citizens reaping the benefits of the Cross-border Healthcare Directive?

Andrzej Rys, Director responsible for health systems, medical products and innovation, Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety, European Commission, says that the Directive on Cross-border Healthcare has furthered cooperation between health systems and clarified the rights of patients when they receive healthcare in another European Union country. As legislation that clearly impacts EU citizens, it should be better known.

What are the lessons learned from this triennial Commission Report?

When speaking about the lessons learned, it is not a question of encouraging people to engage in 'medical tourism', but of allowing patients to benefit from their rights in accessing the greatest expertise and most appropriate treatment available, even if this is not available without undue delay in their own countries.

What has been the impact of the Directive thus far?

The Directive has improved legal certainty and clarity for cross-border as well as for domestic patients over their rights. This strengthened legal certainty has helped not only the patients themselves, but also the national authorities responsible for their management.

This Directive has also allowed Member States to join forces in voluntary cooperation and cohesion between border regions and in furthering cooperation in the field of eHealth and European Reference Networks for rare and complex diseases. The 24 European Reference Networks launched in Vilnius in March 2017 will allow for improvements in the diagnosis, treatment and management of rare diseases, while cooperation and the pooling of resources will pave the way for breakthroughs in research. Significant progress has been achieved, and I am delighted that the European Reference Networks are a very concrete example of EU added value and of the benefits that Europe can gain when we choose to join forces in thematic strands rather than work individually or in silos.

What are the next milestones?

Compliance and conformity checks and dialogues with Member States will continue over the next reporting period and more use will be made of mobility data. Proper implementation of the EU Acquis, particularly in health, is an ongoing process and there is much left to do. Citizens' awareness of their rights and of the Directive is still a challenge. National Contact Points have been set up to inform citizens, but citizens don’t always know about them.

Cross-border patient flows are showing a stable pattern, mostly driven by geographical or cultural proximity. Broadly speaking, patient mobility and its financial implications within the EU remain relatively low and the Cross-border Healthcare Directive has not proven to negatively impact the sustainability of health systems. In the future, I would like to place greater emphasis on the interconnection of our healthcare systems, under the auspices of the increasingly rapid development of e-health.