A new report from the European Court of Auditors has identified a number of challenges still facing cross-border healthcare provision in the EU.
The implementation of the 2011 Cross-Border Healthcare Directive theoretically ensured the rights of EU citizens to safe, high quality medical care where they need it in any Member State, including hospital treatment, the ability to purchase medicines and emergency care. In their cross-border healthcare audit, the auditors assessed implementation of the directive across the EU; as well as investigating the degree to which Member State citizens had been informed of their rights under the directive.
The auditors found that initial implementation of the Cross-Border Healthcare Directive had been appropriately conducted and assiduously monitored by the Commission; however, the report said the Commission had ‘underestimated the difficulties involved’ in implementing an EU-wide infrastructure for the storage and exchange of patient data. By November 2018, when the cross-border healthcare audit was initially conducted, Member States were barely beginning to conduct electronic exchanges of patients’ data; making it impossible for the auditors to fully gauge the potential benefits of cross-border data exchange.
Several European Reference Networks, virtual networks allowing healthcare providers to share knowledge and resources on rare diseases, were found to be financially unsustainable or inconsistent; despite widespread support for the concept from both doctors and patients. Meanwhile, the auditors discovered, very few European citizens are fully aware of their rights concerning cross-border healthcare provision.
The cross-border healthcare audit included a number of recommendations for future actions by the Commission, including:
- Better support for national contact points, to more adequately inform patients of their rights on healthcare;
- Increased preparation for the exchange of patient data between Member States; and
- Improved management of European Reference Networks to accord patients with rare diseases better and more reliable access to healthcare.
Janusz Wojciechowski, the member of the European Court of Auditors responsible for the report, said: “EU citizens still don’t benefit enough from the ambitious actions set out in the Cross-Border Healthcare Directive. EU action includes the right to cross-border treatment, facilitating the exchange of patients’ health data across borders, and initiatives for rare diseases; but better management is needed to deliver on these ambitions.”