Health officials in the Northern Netherlands and Germany are looking for ways to work together more closely in an effort to improve health outcomes in the vicinity of the border.
Translation by Traci White
Dagblad van het Noorden reports that residents who live in the municipalities close the border between Germany and The Netherlands are likelier to have health issues than people living elsewhere. Inhabitants of these often largely rural regions get sick more often, require more medical attention and tend to die at an earlier age.
These issues are exacerbated by hospitals and practices struggling to attract GPs and medical specialists to more remote areas. The planned merger of the paediatrics and obstetrics departments at several Treanthospitals in Drenthe and Groningen is an all too timely example.
Improving cross-border collaboration was the focus of a symposium at UMCG by the Ems Dollart Region. During the event, participants pointed out that despite the best intentions to work together, very few patients in both countries seek medical treatment across the border. One persistent challenge is language: although older generations of Dutch people typically speak at least passing German, younger generations are likelier to speak English. Comparatively, Dutch is a common second language among Germans who live near the border.
Even though the specialties of the medical facilities in both regions appear to be well known – knee and hip replacements in Germany, cancer treatment and heart operations in Groningen – there are still relatively few patients receiving medical treatment outside of their home country. The symposium participants pointed out that looking across the border could mean that patients get care more quickly: while Dutch facilities have up to two month waiting lists for knee replacements, many German facilities can see patients straight away.
There are undeniable connections between the two regions: Germany is well represented at the University of Groningen and UMCG. The symposium also cited a number of successful medical collaborations in recent years, such as measures to prevent antibiotic resistance being applied both in the Netherlands and in Germany.
But perhaps the biggest reason for patients’ apparent reluctance to seek treatment in a neighbouring country is the complexity and specificity of health insurance laws. No patient wants to end up saddled with unexpected expenses because they were unable to read the fine print. Even though EU laws mandate that EU citizens are entitled to treatment in any other member state, the national differences still pose an obstacle for would-be patients.
Ems Dollart Region
The plans were discussed during a symposium by the Ems Dollart Region, which is a cross-border organisation focused on facilitating collaboration between residents and businesses in the border areas of Germany and the Northern Netherlands. The organisation has existed since the 1970s and has around 100 members, ranging from municipalities to industrial groups in Groningen, Drenthe, Friesland and Germany.