Global Economy
Continuing to offer healthcare to all in Europe will require rationing of medical services according to new research
By Finfacts Team
Mar 24, 2011 - 1:13 AM

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Cross-border consolidation of medical facilities is on the way as European public expenditure may rocket to 14% of GDP in 2030 from 8% in 2000

Across Europe, healthcare is barely managing to pay its way. Not only are the methods for raising funds to cover its costs inadequate, but - - of even greater concern - - the costs themselves are set to soar. According to a World Bank official, public expenditure on healthcare in the EU could jump from 8% of GDP in 2000 to 14% in 2030 - - and continue growing beyond that date. The overriding concern of Europe’s healthcare sector is to find ways to balance budgets and restrain spending.

A new Economist Intelligence Unit report, The future of healthcare in Europe, (pdf), sponsored by Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, explores the challenges involved in putting European healthcare on a sound financial footing. The study investigates the drivers of cost inflation in healthcare and means of taming it. To sharpen the focus on the policy alternatives, the study offers five contrasting scenarios of the European healthcare sector in the year 2030.

The research produced the following key findings:

  • Healthcare costs are rising faster than countries’ ability to pay them. The main drivers of rising healthcare costs in Europe are: ageing populations and the related rise in chronic disease; costly technological advances; patient demand driven by increased knowledge of options and by poorer health habits; and legacy priorities and financing structures of the healthcare system which are ill-suited to today’s requirements

  • Seven trends will shape healthcare over the next two decades:

    o Health spending will continue to rise, not only due to inflation but also thanks to growing recognition by policymakers that improved health is linked with greater national wealth
    o Keeping the universal healthcare model will require rationing of services and consolidation of healthcare facilities, as public resources fall short of demand.
    o General physicians will become more important as gatekeepers to the system and as coordinators of treatment for patients with multiple health issues.
    o More effective public health measures and fundamental shifts in attitude will be needed to promote healthy behaviours and discourage unhealthy ones.
    o European governments will need to find a way to improve collection and transparency of health data in order to prioritise investment decisions.
    o Patients will need to take more responsibility for their own health, treatment and care.
    o Governments will have to tackle bureaucracy and liberalise rules restricting the roles of healthcare professionals, to help control costs.

  • Five possible scenarios for European healthcare in 2030 depict extreme outcomes of the decisions facing healthcare planners today. While fictitious and intended to fuel debate, the future is likely to feature some elements of these scenarios:

    o Technology triumphs and cures chronic disease, while e-health takes a prominent role in the management of healthcare.
    o European nations join forces to create a single pan-European healthcare system.
    o Preventive medicine takes precedence over treating the sick.
    o European healthcare systems focus on vulnerable members of society.
    o European nations privatise all of healthcare, including its funding.

To research this report, the Economist Intelligence Unit surveyed the literature and data available on Europe's healthcare systems. The EIU also conducted 28 in-depth interviews with leading experts in the different professional roles that make up the healthcare sector: academics; clinicians; healthcare providers; payers; policymakers; medical suppliers; think tanks and representatives of patients. The data and interview comments were then analysed to define trends likely to impact the direction of healthcare in the next two decades.

Finally, bearing in mind these trends, the EIU developed five scenarios, each a distillation of a school of thought on healthcare reform. The intention is to use these scenarios as a policy-neutral set of platforms upon which some degree of agreement can be reached about the future direction of healthcare. The Economist Intelligence Unit said it bears sole responsibility for the content of this report. The findings and views do not necessarily reflect the views of the sponsor. The interviews were carried out by Alexandra Wyke, Paul Kielstra and Conrad Heine. Alexandra Wyke was the author of the report, and Aviva Freudmann and Delia Meth-Cohn were the editors.

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