Lower Austria as an example of cross-border cooperation in health care
Cross-border cooperation is gaining in significance in the health sector. Cooperation arrangements between hospitals can help balance out regional demands and guarantee a better provision of health care to the population to reduce health and social inequalities.
It can also help in optimizing costs due to the shared use of resources and a better return on resource investment. Moreover, the diffusion, dissemination and implementation of innovative and effective public health interventions are ongoing challenges for the public health workforce and especially the specialist involved in project and policy development.
In this sense, Lower Austria represents an excellent example of a region that invested much in recent years to improve the cooperation within the health sector. Through the Health and Social Fund of Lower Austria (NÖGUS), it participated in several European international projects (for example, the European project Declining, Ageing and Regional Transformation) and two European Territorial Cooperation projects concerning cross-border activities between Lower Austria and regions in the Czech Republic.
"Healthacross" aimed to provide optimum usability of health services and equal access to health care by all people living in the border region of Lower Austria and South Bohemia (Czech Republic), through close cooperation among health service providers in the project region. Results of this two-year project include the publication of guidelines for action on cross-border health care provision, and an analysis of the forms of cooperation between Lower Austria and South Bohemia that were implemented, including emergency care (i.e. the use of existing facilities versus the establishment of a new cross-border health centre).
"Healthacross in practice"
The follow-up project, "Health across in practice", enabled Czech patients from the border region of Lower Austria and South Bohemia to have simple and uncomplicated access to medical treatment at the Landesklinikum Gmünd in Austria. In the pilot period from 25 February 2013 to 30 June 2013, around 100 Czech patients received outpatient treatment in Austria. The pilot project was institutionalized and more than 2800 Czech patients have received outpatient treatment at Landesklinikum Gmünd.
"Health without borders"
Future cross-border cooperation in health care provision was established between Lower Austria and the Czech regions of South Moravia and Vysocina. The aim of the project was to elaborate strategic opportunities for cross-border cooperation between hospitals and to organize a cross-border contract for emergency services. The project tried to overcome language barriers by providing language courses in health care facilities and by publishing a phrasebook titled "Czech language for health care services".
Follow-up to "Healthacross in practice"
The main focus of the new project with South Bohemia is to ensure permanent outpatient treatment of Czech patients in the hospital in Gmünd (Lower Austria), to expand the project by providing inpatient care, and to search for opportunities for a long-term cooperation in terms of a cross-border health care centre in the border region of Gmünd/Ceske Velenice (Czech Republic).
Follow-up project "Together Unlimited Healthy"
This project will focus on cross-border hospital cooperation in radiotherapy and gynaecology (endometriosis) in Lower Austria, South Moravia and South Bohemia. It will also develop software to link emergency coordination centres for cross-border scheduling of emergency vehicles.
"Bridges for Birth"
This project aims to build up cross-border cooperation for neonatology care between the hospital of Hainburg (Austria) and the children's university hospital in Bratislava (Slovakia). The main objective is to transfer newborns who need neonatology care from Hainburg to Bratislava, because the hospital in Bratislava is only 15 km away; the next neonatology care unit in Lower Austria is more than 85 km away.