Can Cross Border Healthcare help develop medical tourism in Europe

 

In March 2011, the European Directive on the application of patients’ rights in cross-border healthcare was adopted by the European Parliament. The Directive clarifies the rights of EU citizens to seek treatment in other EU member states. The EU Directive doesn’t give patients any rights to cross border healthcare that they don’t have already. It doesn’t introduce any new rights. These rights have already been established by the European Court of Justice. What the Directive aims to do is to establish a framework within which cross border healthcare will operate.

And that presents Europe with a unique opportunity: to lead the world in the development of a medical travel infrastructure which will maximise the benefits to both patients and healthcare providers.

Why hasn’t medical tourism really taken off? Why do professional associations, patient organisations and the media in source countries focus on “when medical tourism goes wrong”? How do we remove the fear factor that stops many patients who explore the options for medical tourism from actually going through with it?

Now we have the opportunity to get it right. The EU Directive can provide the stimulus for health care providers and healthcare organisations across Europe to work together to develop a model for medical travel that works. We have European associations for most aspects of healthcare - the European Association of Hospital Managers, the European Health Management Association (EHMA), the European Hospital and Healthcare Federation (HOPE), the European Society for Quality in Healthcare (ESQH), the European Patients’ Forum (EPF) and so on. Working together, organisations like these can influence the way in which the Directive is implemented for the benefit of both providers and patients.

And we are beginning to see some positive attempts to get things moving.

The conference and events world that surrounds medical tourism may be changing direction. We may be coming to the end (I hope!) of those medical tourism congresses which consist of a string of speakers from destinations saying “come to us, we’ve got great doctors, great hospitals, we’re cheap, etc etc”.

In the coming weeks, there are two Brussels based events and one in Athens, that are getting down to the nitty gritty to discuss issues such as the certification of health tourism within Europe, cross border reimbursement, and ensuring patient safety and the continuity of healthcare across borders. In 2012, the European Medical Travel Conference in Berlin will provide focus for those responsible for implementing the Directive and those who will be providing healthcare and medical travel services under the Directive.

So far, medical tourism has been a dream for many destinations and healthcare providers. In a much hyped market, new entrants have come and gone without building a sustainable business.  The EU Directive may provide a much needed stimulus for the industry and the development of the kind of  “joined up healthcare” that will encourage patients to have faith in the medical tourism experience.

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