The study visit in Lower Austria on cross-border health care

Lower Austria represents an excellent example of a region that strongly invests in transnational initiatives to address challenges related to cross-border health care. In 2008 the Lower Austria region initiated collaboration with bordering regions in the Czech Republic, which resulted in the development of various remarkable long-term cross-border health initiatives.

On 20–22 September 2017, the Lower Austria region hosted a study visit entitled “Cross-border health care” in the city of Sankt Pölten. The event, which was organized by the EU Department of NÖ Gesundheits- und Sozialfonds, Lower Austria, was attended by numerous representatives of regions participating in RHN (Varna, Bulgaria; Usti, Czech Republic; Friuli Venezia Giulia and Veneto, Italy; Kaunas, Lithuania; Euroregion, Meuse-Rhine; Pomurje, Slovenia), and other networks (such as the Small Countries Initiative), and countries (Estonia; Hungary; Turkmenistan).

The main objective of the study visit was to facilitate an in-depth exchange on the topic of the cross-border health care, introduce current related programmes and large-scale innovative projects in Lower Austria, and provide an opportunity for sharing ideas and practical approaches in this field within RHN. The rich programme of the visit included workshops, presentations of projects,, and meetings with political representatives of Lower Austria. Specific sessions were reserved for sharing experiences. This ensured achievement of the main purpose of the study visit, namely, to enable the participants to facilitate the establishment of new contacts and provide opportunities for future cross-border collaboration.

Day 1. Becoming familiar with challenges related to cross-border care

On the first day, the focus was on examining in depth the Lower Austria health-care system and the specific challenges related to the delivery of services in border areas. The participants were given a guided tour of the Government district, after which, in his opening presentation, the Dr Ludwig Schleritzko, Minister of Lower Austria (Finance), welcomed them to the region. Then, two initiatives were presented: “Tut Gut”, a hub for health support and prevention, which takes a broad life-course approach, and “Healthacross – cross-border health care”, which aims to provide better and equal access to health care across the Lower Austria–South Bohemia–South Moravia border. Meetings with political representatives of Lower Austria continued in the afternoon with Mag. Barbara Schwarz, Minister for Social and European Affairs.

Day 2. Sharing experiences and good practice

The participants visited some innovative health units at the Hospital of Melk. Here, they a presentation was made on the EU-funded project, “Unlimited health together”, which focuses on improving cross-border emergency care and hospital cooperation in the fields of radiotherapy treatment and gynaecological care (through the knowledge–transfer activities of the Hospital of Znoimo in the Czech Republic and the Endometriosis Centre of the Hospital of Melk). A workshop on cross-border health care in RHN regions prompted debate and presentations on cross-border activities in other regions, such as the Euroregion Meuse-Rhine public health experience.

Day 3. Cross-border cooperation in the future

The participants visited the Hospital of Gmünd. A presentation on the new EU-funded project, “Health cross for future” opened a debate on ways of improving the quality of life of populations in border regions and guaranteeing equity of care, taking a comprehensive primary-health-care approach. In this connection, Lower Austria projects are playing a pivotal role in generating good practice and inspirational examples.

Once again, this format of cross-border study visits – a combination of seminars, workshops and visits to health facilities – proved to be an excellent laboratory for public health innovation. Being fully immersed in field experiences facilitated synergy, mutual learning, an exchange of knowledge and best-practice related to concrete issues, and new forms of collaboration.