According to a study by the Finnish Competition and Consumer Authority (FCCA), patients can only exercise their freedom of choice if the scope, standard and volume of information disseminated about service providers is improved. Common rules need to be established for the communications of primary health care and specialist medical care service providers to ensure the comparability of the information disseminated.
Since the beginning of 2014, patients have been able to choose their health centre and their specialised medical care treatment facility freely out of all the public health centres and hospitals in Finland. Exercising freedom of choice nevertheless requires that patients have enough comparable information on the services offered by each service provider as well as on their standard and availability.
The FCCA’s study shows that ample information on the choice of service providers is available on the websites of local authorities, joint authorities and hospital districts, but that the information is not as user-friendly as it could be. No common rules have been agreed for communicating information about patients’ freedom of choice, and each service provider lays out the information from their own perspectives. As a result, the information is not always easy to find, and the information provided by different service providers cannot be compared against each other.
Many local authorities and some hospitals provide no information at all about patients’ freedom of choice, as they consider the subject to have been sufficiently covered by the media. Citizens’ opportunities to obtain information about their freedom of choice and their rights as patients depend ultimately on their local authority.
The report emphasises that transparent, commensurate and comparable rules need to be established for the communications of primary health care and specialist medical care service providers across the country. The information must also be kept up to date and made accessible to everyone. Information published on websites does not reach all patients, as a large number of the customers of health centres are elderly and do not use electronic services. They are left to rely on information that they obtain from nursing staff, brochures, leaflets, and local media.
The service voucher scheme is still very little used in health care services. Information about health care providers who have been approved for a local authority’s or a joint authority’s service voucher scheme is often difficult to find, which leaves most of the responsibility for comparing service providers on the service voucher holder.
The reform of Finnish social welfare and health care services only increases the need to improve the standard and provision of information about patients’ freedom of choice. Creating common rules for public, private and third-sector health care providers’ marketing is also important from the perspective of patients and efficient competition.
Sweden and Estonia have responded to the need to provide information to patients by setting up electronic information points and health care service agencies. Despite new information channels, patients’ right to choose their service provider will always place an increased responsibility on them to actively seek out services.
The study follows up on a report published in the spring of 2015 on the regulatory framework associated with patients’ freedom of choice (FCCA’s Reports 3/2015, in Finnish).
FCCA assessed realisation of freedom of choice in the present health care system (FCCA’s press release on 2 June 2015)
Helena Tuorila, Senior Research Officer, tel. +358 29 505 3653