This article is part of our special report Resilient and innovative EU health systems.
SPECIAL REPORT / Europeans wish to take greater control of their health through self care, but face barriers and are missing out on the personal, social and economic benefits available, according to a new survey launched at the European Health Forum in Austria on Thursday (3 October).
According to the survey by Epposi, a Brussels-based health think tank, consumers want to use self care to take greater control of their own health and well-being.
Around 2,000 Europeans took part in the survey which was conducted in 10 countries: Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Scotland, Slovakia and Spain.
Almost 90% of the people who took part in the survey believe that self care is crucial to staying healthy and to managing illnesses such as diabetes, incontinence and minor ailments.
However, many people feel they are prevented from managing their own health by cost, health literacy and even the communication skills of medical professionals.
“These barriers can and should be overcome because the individual, social and economic benefits of self care are really significant," said Jacqueline Bowman-Busato, Epposi's executive director.
"Even replacing a tiny percentage of hospital visits by self care, for example, would lessen financial and human resource pressure of health care systems, and empower patients and their families," Bowman-Busato continued.
She added that many barriers would be relatively easy to address.
“Improving basic health literacy and providing quality information would be an excellent start,” Bowman-Busato said.
However, there are financial barriers. Self care products and services would have to become easily accessible and affordable.
23% of those surveyed said they found the cost prohibitive, and therefore governments should identify policies that encourage self care, especially in low income groups, the health think tank said.
These policies would eventually deliver substantial benefits, allowing individuals to remain active and contribute to society.
The survey also showed great differences between countries. While half of those surveyed in Northern countries perceive their skills and capacities on self cares as "very good", only around a quarter in eastern and southern European countries said the same.
Northern countries also scored highest for feeling able to manage their own health, suggesting that better knowledge, skills and capacities for self care could be vital if consumers are to have the confidence and willingness to take the responsibility for their own health. Southern European countries, however, indicated a willingness to improve knowledge, skills and capacities for self care.
In southern Europe, 66% also prefer to consult healthcare professionals for information on self care, predominantly general practitioners (44%) and pharmacists (20%). This is double the rate of northern countries, where media is used as the primary source of information.
Self care is generally understood as personal health maintenance. It is an activity by an individual, family or community, with the intention of improving or restoring health, or treating or preventing diseases.
In practice, this includes exercising to maintain physical fitness and good mental health, healthy diet, self-medicating, practising good hygiene and avoiding health hazards.
Self care also means taking care of minor ailments, long-term conditions, or one’s own health after discharge from secondary and tertiary health care.
NGOs and think tanks
- The Epposi barometer: Consumer conceptions of self care in Europe