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Five countries in Europe show innovative ways to combating chronic disease

European countries have turned into laboratories for innovation to fight the growing threat of chronic lifestyle diseases, according to new research by the Economist Intelligence Unit. The report, Future-proofing Western Europe’s healthcare: A study of five countries, sponsored by Eucomed, identifies important innovations in management and treatment models in the Netherlands, Germany, the UK, Denmark and France that provide a foretaste of how governments will tackle health problems over the next two decades and beyond.


Lifestyle choices are leading to higher rates of chronic disease in Europe.  According to recent data, more than one in five residents of the aforementioned countries are smokers, the populations are among the world’s biggest consumers of alcohol and a substantial proportion is overweight or obese. The treatment of people with numerous, ongoing conditions will require a shift from systems built on acute care to those in which different providers can offer co-ordinated, ongoing care.


The following five developments point towards a possible future for combating chronic lifestyle diseases:


  • Privatisation in the Netherlands: The Dutch government has shifted the financing of healthcare towards a system that is based entirely on private insurance and regulated to insure universal coverage. The new system has brought some benefits for patients but has not yet led to a substantial change in how delivery is organised. Debate about the latter, however, is beginning as all stakeholders adjust to the new system.


  • Integrated care in Germany: The German government’s efforts to subsidise more integrated care has led to 6,000 integrated care contracts in the country. Four million patients have been treated under such arrangements. They have proven their worth by improving patient outcomes substantially even while cutting costs, but remain a small part of overall provision in Germany.


  • Outcomes measurement in the United Kingdom: The publication of outcomes data by the Society of Cardiothoracic Surgery has helped surgeons to reduce dramatically the rate of heart surgery mortality in the UK, even though more high-risk operations have taken place. Now, for four types of operations, the National Health Service has begun the countrywide gathering of Patient Recorded Outcomes Measures (PROMs) – assessments by the patient of how a procedure affects the specific problem being treated, and of the patient’s more general state of health. This is helping doctors to understand better the impact of their interventions, and is redefining health away from clinical measures towards feelings of well-being.


  • Electronic patient records in Denmark: Denmark is one of the few countries that has been able to make electronic patient records work, through a judicious use of incentives, regulation, and a focus on the interoperability of various systems rather than the creation of a single one. The results have included lower cost, reduced paperwork and, especially through outcomes data and analysis, improved quality of care.


  • New regional health agencies in France: France has just created new regional healthcare arrangements that will, if successful, create a highly co-ordinated health system. At the regional level, the new health agencies will be responsible for almost everything related to health: environmental issues, prevention, monitoring of public health and warnings in case of emergency, monitoring of education, all aspects of medical care provision, and long-term care for the elderly and disabled. To ensure integration, the agencies need to create strategic plans that encompass all the areas under their purview. These local plans are now all in place. Time will show with what results.


Future-proofing Western Europe’s healthcare:  A study of five countries

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