Affordable, quality health care. For everyone.

International Health News Brief: 2020, no. 1

News period covered: October–December 2019

Health Tech

OECD Report Says Lack of Health Tech Is Wasting Billions a Year

The health care sector is at least a decade behind other industries in putting data and digital technology to work, missing the opportunity to improve health and save billions of dollars a year, according to a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released in November. While health care itself is rapidly digitizing, health systems remain “data rich, information poor,” the report finds, with data often poorly linked. In addition, only a few countries use information from electronic health record for research purposes, and patients’ access to their own health records is lagging. Overall, a lack of effective policies, rather than technological challenges, remains the key barrier to IT adoption.  

Australia and New Zealand Improve Rural Telehealth

General practitioners and nonspecialists in Australia can now provide rebate-eligible health care services via videoconference to patients in rural and remote areas, the country’s Department of Health announced in November. Officials say the move will help address inequities in the provision of care and may improve health outcomes, in part because the rebates will reduce patients’ out-of-pocket costs. To provide a telehealth service to an eligible patient, practitioners must have provided three face-to-face consultations in the preceding 12 months, a requirement intended to ensure familiarity with patients’ health care needs.

In New Zealand, the Northland District Health Board has developed an acute care telehealth network that links all its rural hospitals to the intensive care unit at the district’s main hospital in Whangarei. The technology is a mix of static room setups and mobile carts that allow remote patient assessment and management in an acute clinical setting. The Rapid Information Telehealth Assessment (RITA) uses Zoom videoconferencing from a computer workstation, tablet, or cellphone that allows a multidisciplinary team of clinicians in different locations to assess patients together.

Australia Consolidates Access to Health Facilities’ Performance Data

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) released a new web portal in December that provides a “national front door” to health system information, including the MyHospitals platform. The new platform, which consolidates available performance metrics and includes links to other national, state, and territory health agencies, presents data on hospital spending, workforce issues, safety and quality of care, and access to services. Officials from the AIHW say new indicators for the portal will be developed with input from government, clinicians, health consumers, and academics.

New Zealand Introduces Surgical Risk Calculator

A new surgical online risk calculator, supported by New Zealand’s Ministry of Health, will allow New Zealanders undergoing surgery to better understand the risks and benefits of their operation. Available to patients and clinicians, NZRisk.com takes into account age, type of surgery, preexisting health conditions, and ethnicity to provide an estimate for the risk of death at one month, one year, and two years following noncardiac surgery. The tool, made available in October, was developed by specialist anesthetist Dr. Doug Campbell of Auckland City Hospital, who said other risk calculators have proven to be inaccurate for the local population. “One reason may be the unique ethnic mix in New Zealand. This risk prediction tool is tailored for our population,” Campbell said.


Health Care Prices

Nine E.U. Countries Join Forces to Reduce Drug Prices

Nine E.U. members have signed up since November for the new International Horizon Scanning Initiative (IHSI), which aims to gather and share data on new medicines coming to market to inform drug pricing negotiations. Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, and Sweden will collaborate on health technology appraisals and price discussions, giving negotiators as much information as possible about new drugs and the alternatives that might be available. With transparency a guiding principle, IHSI will only be using data provided by pharmaceutical company if that information is publicly available. The initiative is open to any country.

Netherlands Lowers Its Maximum Drug Prices

Netherlands Minister for Medical Care Bruno Bruins announced in December that Norway is to replace Germany as one of the comparator countries used to determine maximum prices for prescription drugs. Drug prices in Norway are lower than those in Germany, where prices are now well above the E.U. average. Since 1996, Netherlands had set drug prices using average prices in Belgium, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Netherlands’ action will lower average as well as maximum prices for drugs. The measure mainly affects patented medicines.

Australia Releases 2020–21 Hospital Pricing Framework

Australia’s Independent Hospital Pricing Authority released its Pricing Framework for Australian Public Hospital Services for 2020–21 in December 2019. The framework considers payments for private patients in public hospitals, value-based health care, and for safety and quality. Implementation of a national activity-based funding system is intended to improve the efficiency and transparency of government funding contributions for local hospital networks across Australia, as well as to drive improvements in safety and quality in public hospitals.


Social Determinants of Health

Survey Shows Some Low-Income Patients Are Turned Away by French Specialist Practices

Results from a national survey of more than 1,500 French medical practices conducted by the country’s Défenseur des droits (Defender of Rights) revealed discrimination against many low-income patients, including instances in which care was refused. The survey, released in October, focused on three specialties — dentistry, obstetrics/gynecology, and psychiatry — and aimed to measure differences in patients’ access to care by ethnic origin and economic status. Refusal of treatment was reported for 9 percent of dentists, 11 percent of ob-gyns, and 15 percent of psychiatrists. Such refusals are illegal under French law.

Social Prescribing Academy Launches in England

By connecting patients to community activities such as art and singing classes, what is known as social prescribing can improve health, well-being, and social welfare, many experts say. In October, U.K. Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock announced the formation of the independent National Academy for Social Prescribing, which will receive GBP 5 million (USD 6.5 million) in government funding to standardize the quality and range of social prescribing, increase awareness of its benefits, and develop and share best practices. A goal of the NHS Long Term Plan is to refer as many as 900,000 people to social prescribing schemes by 2021.


Editorial Team

Editors: Roosa Tikkanen and Paul Frame

Project Manager: Aisha Gomez

Country Correspondents

World News — Roosa Tikkanen

Australia — Sonĵ Hall

Canada — Fredrika Scarth

France — Angèle Malâtre-Lansac

Germany — Michael Laxy

Netherlands — Marit Tanke

New Zealand — Andrew Old

Norway — Marianne Storm

Sweden — Ulrika Winblad

Switzerland — Lars Hemkens

United Kingdom — Adam Briggs

Publication Details

Publication Date: March 12, 2020