Representatives of the European Commission and of the European Parliament have highlighted the TEN4Health project as an example for improving cross-border healthcare services in Europe. Both citizens and hospitals are seen to benefit.

The TEN4Health project brings together three health insurance companies and eleven hospitals from six EU Member States – Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands – and is supported by the European Commission through the eTEN programme. The preliminary results of TEN4health were discussed in a workshop at the conference “eHealth 2008” in Kiel, organised by empirica.

The hospitals are located in areas with heavy cross-border tourism, like the town of Villach in Austria or the Veneto region in Northern Italy. They offer pertinent online information for European citizens in different languages at the point and time of treatment. For customers of the cooperating German health insurance funds AOK and TK, there is also an instantaneous electronic verification of insurance status, using their national insurance card or the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).

“Data input for this verification, which uses a secure web service, is done manually at the moment. But TEN4health is clearly seen as pointing the way towards an electronic input once European interoperability issues of national cards and/or the EHIC have been solved. The card then could be checked automatically”, said Werner Korte, executive director of empirica, in an interview with E-Health Europe.

“What is really remarkable about TEN4health is that it is not only about better cross-border care, but also results in a clear and measurable benefit for the hospitals involved.”

This benefit comes from the verification of the insurance status, as Heike Au of the German health insurance company AOK Rheinland/Hamburg explained: “The online verification of the insurance status is followed by an online receipt of a permission to treat the patient, which provides a guarantee to the hospital that they will be reimbursed for the services provided to the patient.”

What this means in real life was illustrated by Alexander Thomasser of the state hospital of Villach in Austria, one of the pilot sites. He pointed out that the service significantly reduced administrative burdens and also reduced payment duration substantially from one year or more to less than two months.

“In fact, the number of unsuccessful claims is down to zero, making the service a success story for us,” commented Dario Zanon from Italy. He expects an even bigger benefit for Italian hospitals since in the Veneto region, with its 15m foreign tourists a year, average payment duration is as long as three years.

Critical questions were also asked, most notably of Milan Cabrnoch, Member of the European Parliament, from the Czech Republic. He mentioned that systems like the one piloted in the TEN4health project could in fact increase the healthcare divide across Europe. The reason, Cabrnoch said, was that in countries with less economic power, health insurance funds might not be able, or willing, to pay for medical treatment of their customers in far more expensive European countries.