EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - Western Europe - mainly France, the Netherlands and Germany - scores best in providing high quality, patient-friendly health services according to report by the Health Consumer Powerhouse, a Stockholm-based think-tank pressing for better healthcare.

While most new EU member states are trying catch up with western European standards, Slovenia, Estonia, Hungary and Poland get the highest ranking in providing "value for money" in the sector.

Among the main findings, its authors point out that patients only have direct access to a medical specialists and the right to a second opinion in one out of three countries. It also found that in one out of every two states, patient's do not have access to their own medical records.

The study also finds that two out of three governments lag behind in the introduction of new pharmaceuticals into the reimbursement system and three out of four national systems cannot treat cancer in patients within a three week period.

In Ireland, the country dubbed the "Celtic tiger", long praised for its economic feats over the past decades, the report has sparked heavy media attention for highlighting Ireland's poor performance.

It notes that countries with pluralistic financing systems - offering a choice of health insurance solutions and a range of both private and public providers - generally score highly on patient rights and information issues.

Sweden and the Netherlands do particularly well in this category, mainly in terms of openness and patient access to their own medical information.

On the other hand, some countries with very good health care services overall - like Germany and France - suffer from "an expert-driven attitude" to healthcare.

In France, in particular, the system is "technically efficient and quite generous", but the authors of the report say, "slightly authoritarian".

The same "authoritarian" trend is visible in Italy and Greece. Danes and Belgians do not get great outcomes in healthcare, unlike Finns, Swedes and Austrians - with Vienna also leading the EU on overall cancer survival.

Both Ireland and the UK feature low on the index, with Dublin having "severe waiting list problems and less than fantastic outcomes," while Britain - on the 15th place - is portrayed as a "mediocre overall performer" - although good on heart problems and excellent on healthcare information.

In most countries of central and eastern Europe, the healthcare systems have been involved in the overall transformation of centrally-planned economies to market economies and several countries are still catching up, mainly to make the sector more consumer-friendly.

The Czech Republic, for example, shows "almost Japanese level of visits to doctors per citizen (15 times per year on average)," according to the paper.

On the other hand, Slovenia, Estonia, Hungary and Poland get the highest ranking for "value for money," while Ireland, Lithuania and Greece are at the bottom of the table.

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