The EU Directive on Cross Border Healthcare, which became law on 25 October 2013, has not transformed the fortunes of patients or the Lithuanian Medical Tourism Market. Although infrastructure in Lithuania has rapidly changed.
Alistair Day-Stirrat, a director at Vilnius-based dental clinic Odontika, says there has been a “trickle of patients” this year who successfully claimed part or all of their treatment costs back home.
So where have patients who have had treatment cost successfully reimbursed come from? “We have had patients from Germany, Norway, and Sweden receiving reimbursement for their dental treatment costs.”
There has been little active communication of the new rights to the public. Partly because governments and state health services like the NHS in Britain are not inclined to heavily publish and promote patients’ rights to travel. Other roadblocks include high costs, bureaucracy and lack of awareness for patients when trying to use their rights under the cross-border initiative, according to patients’ groups and European Commission officials.
According to EU Health Commissioner, Vytenis Andriukaitis, “some countries have very elaborate systems of prior authorization; others seem to use a lower level of reimbursements than they should and others have different administrative requirements.”
Where dental healthcare is concerned, Alistair Day-Stirrat says: “We should not be surprised there hasn’t been a flood of dental patients travelling to Lithuania ready to claim their treatment costs back home. Many EU states provide limited dental healthcare cover and one major condition is patients can only claim for procedures available on their Home Countries Health Services. So dental implants, for example, are not covered in most cases.” More patients of other EU states have received reimbursement for medical treatment carried out in Lithuania.
According to Alistair Day-Stirrat, the number of patients travelling to Lithuania for elective healthcare treatments like dental implants has grown. “We have seen significant increase in dental tourism patients over the last 4-5 years and the trend looks like it is continuing.”
Figures published from the NHS in England show the numbers of patients waiting for routine operations and other procedures stands at 3.12 million. This is up by a third from 2010 when there were 2.5 million on the lists and significantly higher than this time last year when there were 3.2 million.
Separate figures from hospitals obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that in the worst cases, patients have been made to wait almost three years for treatment.
“Late diagnosis or delayed treatment due to over long waiting lists can profoundly affect patient’s recovery. For the NHS, not treating patients early enough has a direct effect on future healthcare cost. Early treatment saves money,” according to Alistair Day-Stirrat.