Health across borders

Cross-border patient care and exchanges of services are another example of the importance of interregional cooperation – working across borders, and bringing health across borders.

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Projects such as this are helping the EU to become a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy by 2020, as set out in the EU 2020 growth strategy. The EU is facing some tough challenges, including an ageing population, an insufficiently qualified workforce, the need for greater innovation, striking a balance between economic growth and environmental degradation, and ensuring secure, clean energy supplies. Regional policy projects across the EU are playing an active role in dealing with these and many other challenges, by undertaking projects designed to generate employment, raise educational achievement, develop renewable energy sources, boost productivity and give all citizens access to opportunities. The projects and the regions play a pivotal role in this, as they generate real results that contribute to achieving the strategy’s key goals.

In the case of the ‘Healthacross’ project, it is not only about working across borders and bringing health care across borders, but for the cities of Gmünd in Lower Austria and České Velenice in South Bohemia which lie across  the Austria/Czech Republic border, it can in some instances mean the difference between life and death.

Provision of emergency care on the Czech side of the border can be limited. After the ambulance in České Velenice, the next nearest one is 35 km away in Třeboň, and the closest hospital is 60 km away in České Budějovice – delays in the provision of medical care can cost lives, even though the hospital in Gmünd on the Austrian side of the border is only situated a few hundred metres from the border. Similarly, Austrian patients like to use certain health care services on the Czech side of the border, such as the modern dialysis unit in Jindřichův Hradec, and the comprehensive rehabilitation services. Therefore, cross-border patient care and exchanges of services would be of great advantage for both partners.

Optimising care

In order to address these differences the project aims to improve cross-border cooperation, improving emergency care response times and providing better access to health care in general across the border region. It will also optimise the care offered and the costs involved through the joint utilisation of equipment capacities and human resources. Improved cooperation will also help in developing common quality standards for the health care sector, eliminating obstacles and simplifying patient transfers, thus ensuring continuity of care and guaranteeing the EU’s fundamental freedoms for all patients. Promoting the exchange and joint utilisation of know-how and best practices, will in the long term, help in establishing a joint cross-border system for the health care sector.

Structural planning for regional health

In order to provide functioning cross-border health care and cooperation in the health sector, the project has had to address the joint development of long-term structural plans for regional health care. A number of important legal and customs-related issues had to be addressed, such as agreements related to ambulances crossing the border, and cost differentials between Austria and the Czech Republic for the payment of services.

For the EU, a particularly urgent issue is the funding of health care services between Member States with significant wage gaps. Healthacross has drawn up a structural comparison and service index, preparing concrete guidelines and coordinating legal and customs-related issues, including those related to the payment of cross-border services.

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