The Directive on the application of patients’ rights in cross-border healthcare (in force since 2011) regulates the rights of patients regarding the reimbursement of healthcare costs provided in another Member State. In addition, each Member State had to set up a National Contact Point (NCP) to provide information about cross-border healthcare to incoming and outgoing patients. The German NCP is available via their website www.eu-patienten.de (in english language available).
The Commission is required to regularly publish a report on the application of the Directive. In July 2018, it released two studies on cross-border healthcare services.
Member States publish 2016 figures
The report summarises data on patient mobility from 2016. In total, National Contact Points received 69,783 requests for information. Poland received some 16,000 enquiries, 15,000 in Lithuania, 9,800 in Austria and 2,300 in Germany.
Patient movement is greatest between neighbouring Member States. Patients travel mainly from Luxembourg to Germany, from Slovakia to the Czech Republic, and from Ireland to the United Kingdom. This mainly concerns services received abroad that require prior authorisation from a health insurance provider, e.g. treatment in hospitals. The Commission’s request to provide information on reimbursement costs was only answered by 12 Member States. In total, around €25 million was spent, but there was a large discrepancy between Member States with France spending €22 million and Croatia only €396.
21 Member States provided data on reimbursement amounts for healthcare services received abroad that do not require prior authorisation, e.g. treatment by a specialist. In total, the costs amounted to around €41 million, of which France alone reimbursed around €20 million and Spain only €2,000.
Generally speaking, the data in the report are rudimentary and hardly allow any conclusions to be drawn.
National Contact Points should be improved
The ‘Study on cross-border health services: enhancing information provision to patients’ focuses on how the information provision to patients via the National Contact Points can be improved. Despite some progress, the use of healthcare services abroad remains an exception and patients in Europe lack information, for example on the existence of National Contact Points in the Member States.
The websites of the National Contact Points have room for improvement. In particular, there should be improvements to information regarding patient rights, quality and safety standards of healthcare for incoming patients. Conversely, information about the reimbursement of medical services in other EU countries should be improved for outgoing patients.
In October 2018, the European Commission will present an implementation report on the Patients’ Rights Directive. The studies mentioned in this article will be incorporated into this report.