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Innovation 'key to chronic disease treatment'

Innovations in healthcare across Europe point to new ways of fighting the growing threat of chronic lifestyle diseases, according to new research by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).

The report, Future-proofing Western Europe's healthcare, identifies important innovations in management and treatment models in the Netherlands, Germany, the UK, Denmark and France.

The report claims the ideas "provide a foretaste of how governments will tackle health problems over the next two decades and beyond".

It says that the treatment of people with numerous, ongoing conditions will require a shift from systems built on acute care to those in which different providers can offer co-ordinated, ongoing care.

"European healthcare systems must find a way to address the future threat of lifestyle diseases in a cost-effective way," says Aviva Freudmann, EIU project director.

"These 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."

The five case innovations cited are: privatisation in the Netherlands, integrated care in Germany, outcomes measurement in the UK, electronic patient records in Denmark and new regional health agencies in France.

The Dutch government has shifted its healthcare towards a system based entirely on private insurance and regulated to insure universal coverage.

The EIU report says the new system has brought some benefits for patients but has not yet led to a substantial change in how delivery is organised.

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 EIU report suggests patient outcomes have improved "substantially" even while cutting costs, but this remains a small part of overall provision in Germany.

The Society of Cardiothoracic Surgery's publication of outcomes data has helped surgeons "dramatically reduce" the rate of heart surgery mortality in the UK, says the report, even though more high-risk operations have taken place.

It points to the NHS gathering Patient Recorded Outcomes Measures (PROMs) - assessments by the patient of how a procedure affects the problem being treated and their more general health - which it argues is helping doctors to understand better the impact of their interventions, and is "redefining health away from clinical measures towards feelings of wellbeing".

The report commends Denmark as "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.

The results, it says, have included lower cost, reduced paperwork and improved quality of care.

France has created new regional healthcare arrangements designed to foster a co-ordinated health system.

At the regional level, new health agencies will have wide-ranging responsibilities - from environmental issues and prevention to the monitoring of public health and long-term care for the elderly and disabled.