Cooperating clinics ‘can save €2bn’

A study has made aware of immense savings potential in the health sector.

The investigation – carried out by the Institute for Advanced Studies (IHS) – shows that Austria’s clinics could cut their costs by two billion Euros in the coming five years by cooperating more closely. IHS experts said hospitals should specialise on certain kind of surgeries and treatment methods. Such reforms could avoid a closure of clinics which make losses mainly for being located closely to another one.

The IHS research also suggests that health sector institutions should strengthen their partnerships regarding the usage of kitchens, clothes cleaning services, data processing and administration programmes. Insurance agencies, federal political institutions and the state’s nine provinces invest around nine billion Euros on services provided at clinics a year. The costs of the country’s healthcare sector as a whole soared from 20 billion Euros in 2007 to 23 billion Euros in 2010.

The budget consolidation package which the government of Social Democrats (SPÖ) and People’s Party (ÖVP) presented in February forces clinics and social insurers to lower their costs by 3.4 billion Euros. Austria’s hospitals were ordered to economise as well.

SPÖ Vienna Health Councillor Sonja Wehsely said federal decision-makers and provincial political leaders agreed with regional health sector officials that general practitioners should be encouraged to intensify their partnership with clinics. She argued that more communication between doctors and clinic ambulances could help to increase the sector’s efficiency. Wehsely said patients were too often consulting hospital s when family physicians were the better option. Opposition politicians criticised the plan for failing to lack precise rules and guidelines. Health sector experts doubt that the planned partnership incentive will lead to a significant reduction of costs.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) appealed on Austria to carry out a drastic reform of its health sector. OECD officials said Austria’s political and economic leaders must finally clarify areas of responsibility. The organisation said there were too many institutions involved in decision-making processes in the sector. International studies show that, with 5.1 per cent, Austria is the OECD member state with the highest share of people in care ahead of Switzerland and Norway with 3.9 per cent each.

The OECD also called for more measures against unhealthy lifestyles in the country. Thirty-six per cent of Austrians smoke on a daily basis. Eurostat, the European Commission’s (EC) statistic agency, said that Austrian smokers need 18 cigarettes a day – four more than the European Union (EU) average. Nearly 60 per cent of Austrian men and more than four of 10 women living in the country are overweight, according to the OECD. Diseases triggered by problems with the cardiac cycle are the most common cause of death in Austria. Over 33,000 people succumbed to such sicknesses in 2009.

Austrian nutrition expert and sport researcher Hans Holdhaus warned that health problems people used to experience at ages between 60 and 80 could soon increasingly occur at the age of only 30 to 50. “We are developing into a sick society,” he warned.