Europe’s most empowered patients are to be found in Denmark, while the position for those in the UK, at 17th out of a list of 31 nations, is “mediocre,” according to a new study.

However, the UK does share the top spot - with Denmark – in health technology assessment (HTA), one of four categories used by the study to assess patient empowerment around Europe. The other categories are: patient rights – Switzerland leads here; information – Denmark again tops the table; and financial incentives – where Belgium, Germany and Switzerland are joint winners.

Money is not the only issue for patient empowerment – it is also about will and a perception of whom the health care system is aiming to serve, says the study, which was conducted by the Brussels-based consumer advocacy group Health Consumer Powerhouse (HCP), with support from Novartis.

Overall, the study places Germany second among European nations in terms of empowering its patients, followed by Finland and Switzerland in joint third, the Netherlands, France, then Hungary and Norway in joint seventh and Slovenia ninth. In these top-ranked countries, policymakers appear to have realised that the health care system is for patients and “does not serve to guarantee a healthy workforce able to pay taxes and do its duty,” say the researchers. Good health care is dependent on the active participation of patients, and the high-raking systems work to involve patients by offering financial incentives, power over information and patient rights, leading to them making active choices, they add.

Countries which are failing in the ranking include - after the UK - Italy in 18th place, countries such as the Czech Republic, Ireland, Spain and Poland, with Bulgaria bottom in 31st place. To improve patient empowerment, an initial step for these nations has to be better user information, and the first issue is fostering patient literacy, the group advises. Moreover, patient co-payment often goes hand-in-hand with user-friendliness, while screening programmes for common diseases, as well as opening the HTA procedures for patient review, have been shown to be important, it adds.

Specifically, if patients in the UK are to be active partners in health care, they need to have access to comprehensive information about their medicines, and from a wider range of sources than their doctor or pharmacist, say the researchers. They recommend Sweden’s information site at www.fass.se - where citizens can learn about their prescribed medicines, and which provides them with rapid alerts via SMS or email if the authorities or manufacturers discover a new problem - as a good place to start.

There is also a clear need for financial incentives within the healthcare sector in the UK to stimulate more patient involvement, the researchers conclude.