European countries "have turned into laboratories for innovation to fight the growing threat of chronic lifestyle diseases".

That is the view of new research by the Economist Intelligence Unit that identifies important innovations in management and treatment models in the Netherlands, Germany, the UK, Denmark and France. It highlights various projects in the five countries that "provide a foretaste of how governments will tackle health problems over the next two decades and beyond".

The report, sponsored by the European medical technology industry association Eucomed, starts off by looking at the situation in the Netherlands, where the Dutch government "has shifted the financing of healthcare towards a system that is based entirely on private insurance and regulated to insure universal coverage". It goes on to note the German government’s efforts to subsidise more integrated care "has led to 6,000 integrated care contracts in the country. Four million patients have been treated under such arrangements".

The latter "have proven their worth by improving patient outcomes substantially even while cutting costs, but remain a small part of overall provision in Germany", the EIU notes. The analysis then turns its attention to the UK where, for four types of operations, the National Health Service has begun the countrywide-gathering of patient recorded outcomes measures (PROMs) – assessments by the patient of how a procedure affects the specific problem being treated and their more general state of health.

Electronic patient records work in Denmark

The EIU study goes on to praise efforts in Denmark, which is "one of the few countries that has been able to make electronic patient records work, through a judicious use of incentives, regulation, and a focus on the interoperability of various systems rather than the creation of a single one". The results have included "lower cost, reduced paperwork…and improved quality of care".

Finally, France has just created new regional arrangements "that will, if successful, create a highly co-ordinated health system", the report states. At the regional level, the new health agencies "will be responsible for almost everything related to health: environmental issues, prevention, monitoring of public health and warnings in case of emergency, monitoring of education, all aspects of medical care provision, and long-term care for the elderly and disabled."

Aviva Freudmann, project director, said that European healthcare systems must find a way to address the future threat of lifestyle diseases in a cost-effective way”. She added that the five case studies "are at the forefront of trends and each has the potential to improve both the quality of care and efficiency of treatment".