Are patients in control of their health care? European conference promotes patient-centred health systems

Copenhagen, Denmark, 11 April 2012

Health systems are usually organized to deliver care to patients with the professional at the centre. But this traditional view of the relationship between patients and doctors is being review at the first European Conference on Patient Empowerment, taking place in Copenhagen, Denmark on 11–12 April 2012.

“Originally health services were organized to respond to and treat acute illnesses. Today, the growing need to treat chronic conditions requires a different approach,” says Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe.  “The patient–doctor relationship is changing fundamentally: the patient is increasingly considered an ‘expert by experience’ whose active participation in decision-making is vital”.

Chronic diseases are now the biggest cause of death and disability worldwide – including cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, obesity and chronic respiratory diseases – and account for an estimated 86% of deaths and 77% of the disease burden in the European Region, as measured by disability-adjusted life-years. This development has brought about a fundamental shift in health systems and health care and thus in the roles of patients. The focus on patient self-care practices has grown substantially, and much care and treatment takes place at home, leaving patients and family with greater responsibility for their own health. “This critical shift in approach is appropriate for 21st-century health and social care, in which patients enjoy greater personal control by participating in their own treatment” says Zsuzsanna Jakab.

Empowering patients sets new demands on the health system

In some countries in Europe, such as Denmark and the United Kingdom, health care is already considered a process of co-production in which a team of professionals interacts with the patients and their family and support group. This approach demands some fundamental changes in how disease management is perceived, and functions including:

  • moving both professionals and patients from a hierarchical mindset towards one based on dialogue and co-production;
  • making health systems and their functioning more “readable” so that patients can navigate them according to their needs while preparing them to interact with health care systems – asking questions, expressing needs and expectations, etc;
  • training health professionals to be better communicators and listeners; and
  • making information more easily available and understandable.

People with a chronic condition are a resource

Ultimately, patient empowerment changes the position of people with long-term health conditions from a cost to health services to recognizing them as a resource. Harnessing their unique set of experiences enables them to support others through volunteering or paid employment and provides a different perspective to that of health professionals. People who are actively managing their own condition and have made positive life changes can be very effective role models.

Future action for empowering patients in the European Region

The WHO Regional Office for Europe is part of the European Network on Patient Empowerment (ENOPE), a network of organizations committed to strengthening health promotion and disease prevention initiatives aimed at empowering patients. ENOPE facilitates the exchange of experience and advocates for patient involvement and patients’ rights. This network aims to motivate European countries to engage in initiatives for empowering citizens and patients at the level of health systems and services as well as in communities. This is in accordance with the spirit of Health 2020, the new European policy for health, which calls for patient-centred health care systems committed to empowering patients.

The first European Conference on Patient Empowerment

This Conference, taking place on 11–12 April 2012, is organized in close technical collaboration with the WHO Regional Office for Europe, under the auspices of the Danish Presidency of the Council of the European Union, together with Denmark’s Ministry of Health, the Danish Committee for Health Education, the Careum Foundation Switzerland and the Expert Patient Programme, England.

For further information, contact:

Technical information:

Anja Esther Baumann
Technical Officer, Patient Empowerment
Tel.:  +45 39171341, +45 51203458

Media enquiries:

Tina Kiær
Communications Officer
Tel.: +45 39 17 12 50, +45 30 36 37 76 (mobile)