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Questions and answers on cross border healthcare

Treatment Abroad has provided the frequently asked questions about Cross Border Healthcare in the EU and given answers to those question. Choose from the list below.

What does the Directive mean for patients living in the EU?
The Cross Border Healthcare Directive does not give people in any Member State additional rights. It states clearly what those rights are, something that was lacking before it came into force. It spells out what rights people have to get healthcare and medical treatment in another country within the EU and explains how the system works in practice.

Where will I be able to get information about my rights under the Directive?
Information will be more easily accessible through national contact points and other sources. Each Member State will have designated national contact points who are able to supply up-to-date information about patients’ rights.

What happens about my medical records?
The Cross Border Healthcare Directive ensures that every patient has access to their medical records, but also safeguards patients’ privacy, protecting any personal data that is transferred to a hospital or other healthcare organisation outside their own country.

What are my rights if something goes wrong when I have healthcare abroad?
This should happen rarely as the country providing the healthcare has full responsibility for any clinical oversight. The health authorities in your own country have no jurisdiction, and you cannot complain to them. If something does go awry, you will be able to get advice and assistance from your national contact point and will be eligible for compensation from the Member State responsible for your treatment.

Will I get ‘second class’ treatment abroad?
No, if you go to another Member State in the European Union, the care you will receive will be the same as that offered to someone who is resident in that country. This also means that you may not jump ahead of a waiting system in your country of choice.

Why did the Cross Border Healthcare Directive come about?
After the Yvonne Watts case in the UK in 2003, there was a need for the European Commission to make patients’ rights in the European Union much clearer. It was necessary to clarify how a patient in one Member State could gain approval for treatment in another Member State, reimbursed by their own healthcare system.

What does the Cross Border Healthcare Directive say about non-hospital treatment?
If you travel from your own country to another Member State you can gain access to any non-hospital care that is available to you in your own country, without prior authorisation. This means you do not have to have permission from your own healthcare system first. The cost of the treatment will be reimbursed in full, as long as the treatment you have can be provided within your own healthcare system. Reimbursement above and beyond that may not be granted.

What does the Cross Border Healthcare Directive say about hospital treatment?
The regulations about hospital treatment say that you can apply to go to another Member State for treatment as long as your case meets specific criteria. You must get pre-authorisation from your own healthcare system before you go, and then the healthcare system will reimburse the cost of treatment direct to the hospital in the Member State you have chosen in most cases. In others, you will need to pay, but will be reimbursed without too much delay, by your healthcare system. The size of the reimbursement will cover the cost of the treatment that you have, not the cost of the treatment in your own country.

Does my GP need to refer me for cross border healthcare?
In most cases, yes, as GP referral is usually required for any hospital treatment. Any Member State can set this as a condition for accepting a patient from another EU country for treatment in one of their hospitals.

What will the national contact points do?
If you are considering cross border healthcare, you have a right to access as much information as you need to be sure you are making the right decision. At the time the Cross Border Healthcare Directive came into force, people did recognise that information sources were inadequate. National contact points will develop to fulfil this requirement and each Member State will be able to decide how many National Contact Points it has, and where they are sited. The Directive stipulates that each European country should have enough National Contact Points with the proper facilities to provide prospective patients with information and practical support if required.

What are European reference networks?
These are centres of excellence for diagnosing and treating rare conditions. The idea is to set up European reference networks that are available to all residents of Europe, so that healthcare resources can be used as efficiently as possible. The Cross Border Healthcare Directive clarifies the circumstances in which patients who need to access European reference networks can do so.

Why might I want to go to another Member State for medical treatment?
In most cases, you would want treatment locally, as this is more convenient. However, if there is an undue delay in obtaining the treatment you need in your own country, you should be able to travel to another country within the European Union that is able to provide it, and have the cost funded by the healthcare system of your own country. This may apply particularly to people in countries where there are long waiting lists for treatment, or where people live on the border near to another country with greater capacity in its healthcare system.

How many people are likely to take advantage of cross border healthcare?
Probably only a small fraction of people needing healthcare. Currently, countries in Europe spend about 1% of their healthcare budgets on healthcare obtained by their citizens in another European country and this is unlikely to change. Patients within smaller countries, or those near borders are probably more likely to request treatment in another Member State. It is also helpful for people with rare conditions to be able to get treatment in a specialised centre, no matter where in Europe that might be.

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