In the U.S., we usually hear about health care in Europe as an example of what the American health system is not. Universal health coverage, state-run provider networks, and rationing are the two differences that come up most often. But the U.S. and Europe share many health care policy challenges: an aging population, the prevalence of chronic diseases, and health costs and spending that grow faster than GDP. The World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Europe recently published a report – part of its Health 2020 initiative – that assessing these health challenges and lays out a framework for “sustainable, high-quality health care“.

Health 2020 Focuses on Holistic, Evidence-Based Health Policy for Europe:

The Health 2020 Policy and Framework Strategy is a guide for the European region’s 53 countries to address common and pervasive health problems, which the report says drain economic and social resources. Its goals are to improve health for all and reduce health inequalities, and to improve leadership and governance for health across the region.

Health 2020 focuses on value- and evidence-based policies that improve health and use resources more efficiently. That concept is now ubiquitous in health reform efforts across the U.S., from the Affordable Care Act (ACA), to state Medicaid reforms, to provider payment reforms among employer-sponsored insurance (ESI) and private health plans.

Health 2020 applies evidence-based health concepts to four priority areas:

1) Investing in health through a life-course approach and empowering people.

2) Tackling Europe’s major health challenges: non-communicable diseases and communicable diseases.

3) Strengthening people-centered health systems, public health capacity and emergency preparedness, surveillance and response.

4) Creating resilient communities and supportive environments.

The thrust of Health 2020 is that health care challenges can’t be solved in the traditional health policy arena alone.  The report takes a broad view of how to improve health in society, and explores options as varied as emphasizing disease prevention, incorporating behavioral and environmental factors into evidence-based approaches, launching publicity campaigns to promote exercising, changing road design and signage to reduce road crashes, and encouraging providers to be more discerning in using new medical technologies.

“Real health benefits can be attained at an affordable cost by investing in health promotion and disease prevention.”

All in all, the Health 2020 Policy and Framework Strategy is a thought-provoking read for anyone interested in European health policy.  Of course, as you may expect from the WHO and a report on health care issues in European nations, it does emphasize regulatory and collectivist approaches and tends to avoid market-driven solutions.

Read the full interactive report here, and the shortened version here.  Also check out the WHO’s European Health Report 2012, which has a number of data on health trends in Europe.