Thursday, 8 September 2022

Dubrovnik Hosts Digitalisation in Healthcare, Health Tourism Conference

September the 8th, 2022 - The City of Dubrovnik hosted a recent conference on digitalisation in healthcare, and the potential of health tourism.

As Morski writes, the global health and wellness tourism market is worth more than 900 billion US dollars and is the fastest growing segment of tourism with annual growth of 15 to 20 percent. Croatia can do more in this than it does currently, and this was among the main messages from this week's conference "Digitalisation in healthcare and the potential of health tourism 365'', held in Dubrovnik.

The conference was organised by the Dubrovnik County Chamber of Commerce, bringing together experts from the fields of digitisation, innovation, healthcare and tourism.

The global data on the value of that market presented at the conference are actually estimates by the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), according to which the largest part of the total estimated value of the global market, or about 800 billion dollars, refers to wellness, while the value of health tourism is estimated to stand at about 125 billion dollars.

With regard to the growing market value, which also stimulates the increase in demand for healthcare and wellness tourism services, as well as the growing life expectancy of the world's population, it was pointed out at the conference that these are opportunities for further development of that market, including right here in Croatia.

The global report on the health and medical tourism market confirms that there are opportunities for growth and predicts that revenues in this market will grow by 30 percent annually from 2021 to 2026, and everything was additionally accelerated by the global coronavirus pandemic, which resulted in a significantly increased interest in healthcare and wellness tourism. Croatia also has a great opportunity due to its natural benefits, professional staff and excellent offer.

What it lacks, and what is happening more and more in the world, is that this growing demand is accompanied by increased investments in healthcare infrastructure, which in recent years also includes significant investments in the areas of digital transformation and innovation, robotics and artificial intelligence. Nevertheless, the European Centre for Digitisation and Innovation in Healthcare was established right here in the Republic of Croatia, which provides strong support to the business sector in the segment of project application support, research, testing, and the marketing of new products and services, and therefore this centre is designated as a possible reference point for the development of that sector.

The participants of the Dubrovnik conference agreed that Croatia has the potential for developing digital processes, including the digital transformation of the healthcare system, but with the assumption that speeding up all administrative processes is paramount. Croatia is a very attractive destination, it is especially strong in the fields of dental, aesthetic surgery and ophthalmology. In addition, work can be done to attract significant investments in this segment of the tourist offer and the clear marketing communication of Croatia as a destination for year-round health tourism, which would begin to solve the problems of seasonality.

For more, make sure to check out our dedicated lifestyle section.

Sunday, 26 June 2022

Four Croatian Healthcare Innovation Projects Selected for EU Funding

ZAGREB, 26 June 2022 - As many as four Croatian healthcare innovation projects are included among 20 projects from central, eastern and southern Europe selected for financing by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) under the Regional Innovation Scheme.

Eighty projects have applied for funding, and four Croatian ones have been selected, more than from any other country in the region, the Večernji List (VL) daily said on Sunday.

The EIT Health Regional Innovation Scheme supports the development of  innovation in healthcare in the countries of central, eastern and southern Europe. The consortia behind the selected innovations will be granted up to €75,000 for further development of products or solutions, mentoring, a place at a bootcamp, and access to potential investors and partners through EIT Health, a network of top healthcare innovators in Europe.

The selected Croatian projects are: MEGI, PsyFlux, StressLyft and the Human-Machine Interface.

MEGI aims to develop an AI-enabled virtual cardiovascular health assistant that uses personalised protocols to remind patients to take medication and measure their blood pressure at home.

The PsyFlux consortium is developing a telemetric intracranial pressure monitoring device that can be used outside the hospital without infection risks, allowing the patient to partake in everyday activities.

StressLyft is an educational course about workplace stress and stress relief skills, based on interactive video content, which companies provide for their employees to prevent work-related stress.

The gesture-based human machine interface for guided orthopaedic surgery aims to develop novel medical devices that help surgeons to make millimetre-precision measurements during hip replacement surgery and possibly other types of operations.

"Our aim is to find the best ideas and early-stage innovations in the region and encourage players from business and academia to build consortia and turn their concepts into realities," Mónika Tóth, EIT Health InnoStars RIS Programme Manager, was quoted as saying.

For more, check out our politics section.

Sunday, 19 June 2022

Health Ministry Decides on New Croatian Immunology Institute Location

June the 19th, 2022 - The much-talked-about Croatian Immunology Institute is one step closer to coming to fruition now that the involved ministries have chosen a location for the future facility.

As Poslovni Dnevnik/Marija Crnjak writes, through the joint efforts of the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Physical Planning, Construction and State Property and the Immunology Institute, a solution was reached by which the Rugvica business zone near Zagreb will become the permanent home of the new Croatian Immunology Institute, the Ministry of Health reported recently.

''In the context of legal challenges we faced with the previous chosen location, we've made a significant step forward in continuing this strategic project and have shown the strong will and determination of the Croatian Government, the Ministry of Health and the Croatian Immunology Institute to remain committed to revitalising the Immunology Institute as an important institution in this country,'' said Health Minister Beros on the occasion of this decision.

With this decision, the Municipality of Rugvica, as the owner, donates to the Croatian Immunological Institute, land in the Rugvica working zone - north, 69,761 m2 with a potential minimum minimum size of 20,000 m3 for the construction of an entire biological drug factory, the construction of a separate plant for antitoxins, and plants for the production of animal immunosera intended for both human and animal use with the primary purpose of producing antitoxins for the venom of European snakes.

This Decision was preceded by a statement from the State Attorney's Office of the Republic of Croatia, the Ministry of the Economy and Sustainable Development, and the Ministry of Physical Planning, Construction and State Property found no legal obstacles in terms of Article 391 of the Property and Other Real Rights Act.

The construction of the entire factory will begin in no later than two years time, while the estimated construction time to the stage of functionality is nine months from the positive completion of the public tender, ie the selection of all of the contractors by tender. The method of construction of the production plant will be prefabricated modular segments of clean rooms designed and built outside the building and connected and formed inside the building, preceded by a series of preliminary works, from obtaining the necessary permits, evaluating the conceptual design and final design of the main project.

At the same time, a public tender has been prepared for publication for the construction of a new biopharmaceutical plant for the production of animal immunosera, ie drugs intended for both human and veterinary use with the primary purpose of producing antitoxins for European snake venom.

As the Croatian Immunology Institute has permits for animal testing, as well as breeding permits, there are some basic preconditions for building a plant for processing hyperimmune equine (horse) plasma within the new factory, as a complete unit in one location, where the processing, filling and equipping would take place. The existing resources on the farm in Sveta Nedelja will be used for all of the above.

"The Croatian Immunology Institute is the flagship of our science and deserves all possible interdepartmental efforts. The easiest thing in the world to do is to simply declare the end and throw in the towel at the first sign of any obstacles that understandably appeared due to the complexity of this project. We've chosen a harder but more correct way of going about things, we've taken an additional step forward and together we've found a solution to continue the revitalisation of the Croatian Immunology Institute.

In order to restore its reputation and further position it on the international map of leading manufacturers of vaccines for various purposes, as well as other products in demand in this market segment, in the first phase, vaccines against measles and rubella will be produced, as these are products needed by both the Croatian and world markets,'' concluded Minister Vili Beros, adding that this country now the opportunity to meet the preconditions for its own production of antitoxins, which would make Croatia self-sufficient in the production of snake antidote, which is especially in demand during the summer tourist season when bites are more common.

For more, make sure to check out our dedicated lifestyle section.

Sunday, 15 May 2022

Minister Comments on Strike, Says Won't Tolerate Patients Being Denied Healthcare

ZAGREB, 15 May 2022 - Health Minister Vili Beroš said on Sunday, ahead of a strike of non-emergency ambulance drivers set for Monday, that he supports any protest that is in line with the law but that he will not tolerate patients being denied the right to health care.

Some of the non-emergency ambulance drivers have announced a strike for Monday, to last until their demands are met and a regulation is adopted that would make their wages even throughout the country as currently they differ up to HRK 1,500, depending on the county where they work.

The minister said a solution was being defined with all the relevant stakeholders, recalling that last year the government and the health ministry launched dialogue with unions and showed the will to resolve the problem.

He added that there was therefore no reason to strike or take action that would be to the detriment of patients and that he expected local clinics and non-emergency ambulance drivers to continue providing regular services so that a solution to their problem could be found in a constructive and peaceful atmosphere.

For more, make sure to check out our lifestyle section.

Wednesday, 4 May 2022

Health Ministry: Pregnancy Termination Possible After Week 10 for Medical Reasons

ZAGREB, 4 May 2022 - It should be possible for every woman in Croatia to terminate pregnancy even after ten weeks if there are medical reasons for that, the Health Ministry said on Wednesday after the media reported on the case of a 39-year-old woman whose second child in the womb has an aggressive brain tumour.

The ministry called on all health institutions to timely and accurately inform their patients of their rights and possibilities that exist in Croatia.

Mirela Čavajda, whose second child got an aggressive brain tumour in the womb, told the Index web portal, which was the first to publish her story, that all hospitals in Zagreb she contacted had refused to do a termination of pregnancy despite the fact that doctors told her that the tumour was so big the child most likely would not live long, and even if it did, it would never have a normal life.

The doctors she talked to convinced her they would be happy to help her, but they said it was illegal in Croatia to do an abortion after week ten, Index wrote.

The parent tried to seek help in all Zagreb hospitals that could do a termination of pregnancy -- Sveti Duh, Merkur, Vinogradska, and last Friday they sent a request to hospitals to establish a committee which should by law approve a termination of pregnancy, but they still have not received a response.

Čavajda added that she therefore launched a procedure in Slovenia, where she was told after an examination that the diagnosis was very bad, that there was nothing disputable about her case and that the decision was up to the parents, announcing that an ethics committee would make a decision on the request next Tuesday.

In a reaction to that case, the Croatian Ministry of Health said that a termination of pregnancy was possible after week ten with an approval of the committee and with the consent, that is, at the request of the pregnant woman, in cases where there are medical indications, or when the conception occurred as a result of rape, intercourse with an incapacitated person, intercourse by abuse of position, intercourse with a child or incest.

In order to ensure the woman's right, the Ministry of Health has enabled the establishment of a second-instance committee at the KBC Zagreb Hospital, in case the first-instance committee denies her request, it was said.

For more, make sure to check out our dedicated lifestyle section.

Sunday, 17 April 2022

Faster HZZO Medicine Listing Would Save Another Billion for Healthcare System

April the 17th, 2022 - The much more rapid and efficient listing of HZZO medicine could end up saving the already enfeebled Croatian healthcare system another billion kuna.

As Poslovni Dnevnik/Marija Crnjak writes, the Croatian healthcare system could save an additional one billion kuna per year if the policy of putting generic and biologically similar drugs on the lists of the Croatian Health Insurance Institute (HZZO) was improved and accelerated, according to Croatian pharmaceutical generic companies within the Croatian Employers' Association (HUP).

Currently, the system saves about 300 million kuna a year with the use of this HZZO medicine, but the potential is significantly higher, said Jerko Jaksic, president of the Association of Drug Manufacturers at HUP, at a briefing for journalists which took place on Thursday.

According to data from back in 2019, 61 percent of the volume of prescription drugs in the Republic of Croatia is made up of generic drugs, which is slightly lower than the EU average of 67 percent. The situation with biosimilars is much worse, they accounted for a modest 13 percent of the market in total consumption of biological drugs.

Although further growth is expected in the coming years, in addition to education, it's necessary to accelerate their application when they are registered with the European Medicines Agency and the Croatian Medicines Agency.

As the manufacturers have explained, the HZZO procedure for listing a drug, which is purely administration and paperwork, takes an average of four to six months, during which time money is directly lost that could be saved by using generic instead of innovative therapy.

“So-called drug penetration into the system should be significantly quicker, which is even more significant when it comes to biological drugs, as biological drugs are very expensive. We have announcements from the Croatian Health Insurance Fund that this process could be accelerated, and we're very happy about that. There's no reason why a drug shouldn't automatically be on the list immediately after its registration, and it would be very good if the new procedure comes to life by the middle of this year because patents for some drugs expire soon,'' Jaksic said.

In particular, these are diabetes related drugs, and the potential for savings is 30 percent for the healthcare system, with the release of patient participation. With proper application, in 2023, 15 percent more patients could be treated for the same cost in this segment alone, HUP pointed out. The data also shows that biosimilars have increased the availability of biologic therapy.

For example, in the immunology segment, 67 percent more patients were treated for only 19 percent more. Back in 2021, 2.5 times more patients were treated with the chemotherapy mitigation drug than in 2019 for approximately the same total cost. In 2020 alone, biosimilars provided savings of 200 million kuna. However, the biggest shortcoming in the drug policy in Croatia is still poor cost control, due to insufficient therapeutic guidelines and measuring the effectiveness of therapies, they added from HUP.

Patient registries exist only for a small number of diagnoses and a large role in this is played by patient associations, which are as such fighting for the better availability of some drugs, but for most patients and diagnoses, not all treatment parameters are systematically monitored.

For more, check out our lifestyle section.

Sunday, 3 April 2022

Croatia's Acute Myeloid Leukemia Survival Rate 5% Below EU Average

ZAGREB, 3 April 2022 - About 150 people in Croatia are annually diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), and the survival rate is about 5% below the EU average, a round table on the treatment and quality of life of AML patients heard earlier this week.

"In Croatia, every week three persons are told they have AML, which is 156 annually, according to data from the Cancer Register for 2019. The five-year survival rate is 12.6%, compared to the EU average of 17.2%, which shows that there is considerable room for improving treatment", the participating doctors and patients said at the round table.

AML is the most common type of acute leukemia in adulthood and the most frequent age at diagnosis is 65 years, with increasing incidence after 65 years of age. It has the lowest survival rate compared to other types of leukemia and is treatable in about 40 per cent of patients aged under 60 years, most frequently by bone marrow transplantation from an unrelated donor.

"In Croatia, we have 70,000 bone marrow samples and we can find an unrelated donor relatively quickly, which is why nearly every patient in Croatia has a chance to get a transplant and be cured. The number of transplantations has reached one hundred annually, which is within the European average," haematologist Radovan Vrhovac said.

For more, check out our dedicated lifestyle section.

Sunday, 6 March 2022

Breast Cancer Mortality Falling in Croatia for Fifth Consecutive Year

ZAGREB 6 March 2022 - Breast cancer mortality has been falling in Croatia for the fifth consecutive year, the Croatian Public Health Institute (HZJZ) said earlier this week ahead of Daffodil Day, noting that the disease was no longer the leading cause of mortality in women.

Breast cancer is now the third leading type of cancer causing death in the female population, after lung and colon cancer.

In terms of breast cancer mortality, Croatia ranks 15th in the EU, which is better than average.

Daffodil Day will be observed this year for the 26th time, on the first Saturday in spring, to raise awareness of the importance of preventive breast examinations.

In 2019, Croatia recorded 2,999 cases of breast cancer (143.2 cases per 100,000 population), and 722 women died of that disease in 2020 (34.7 deaths per 100,000 population).

Due to population ageing, it is forecasted that more women will be diagnosed with breast cancer.

Most cases are diagnosed in older women, with more than 80% of new cases consisting of women aged 50 and over. Even though younger women, too, can be diagnosed with breast cancer, such cases are more rare. This stresses the importance of breast examinations as soon as one reaches early adulthood.

The drop in breast cancer mortality is partly owing to the implementation of the national programme for early breast cancer screening and detection, launched in 2006. This initiative includes invitations to mammographies to all women aged between 50-69, every two years, it also includes better diagnostic and treatment methods.

According to the 2019 European Health Interview Survey, 77.3% of Croatian women aged 50-69 underwent screening in the past two to three years.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, mammographies were put on hold for only three months, in the spring of 2020, during the lockdown. However, all women who missed their check-up at the time received a new invitation to a new screening apointment in the autumn of 2020.

Around 150,000 women a year respond to invitations for mammography, and so far more than 7,000 new cases of breast cancer have been diagnosed through this initiative.

For more, check out our dedicated lifestyle section.

Monday, 28 February 2022

Beroš Says Croatia Will Provide Health Care for Wounded and Refugees from Ukraine

28 February 2022 - Health Minister Vili Beroš said on Monday that Croatia would provide health care for refugees from Ukraine, as well as all necessary medical assistance for the wounded if the need should arise.

Croatia already helped treat the wounded from Ukraine in 2014 during the annexation of Crimea. At that time, we offered help with taking care of a total of 10 wounded persons, and eight of them were treated at Zagreb's KB Dubrava hospital, mostly persons with gunshot wounds to arms and legs, who arrived in Croatia in the final phase when treatment had to be completed and rehabilitation carried out, the minister recalled.

The manner of caring for the wounded will be agreed at the European level, and Croatia is willing to participate because Croatian doctors have extensive surgical experience in treating such patients, Beroš told Hina, adding that he also talked about it with the Ukrainian ambassador to Croatia.

Beroš considers that it would be more functional to establish a health centre for the wounded near the Ukrainian border, for example in Poland, and have medical staff, including Croatian doctors, participate in the treatment at that centre.

As for health care for Ukrainian refugees coming to Croatia, it will be provided to everyone from the place of entry in Croatia to the place where they will stay for a longer period of time.

Medical triage at points of entry into Croatia

Therefore, in addition to the government's interdepartmental working group for the reception of refugees, an expert working group was established at the level of the Health Ministry to provide specific health care to those people.

Beroš said that medical emergency teams would provide medical triage at points of entry into Croatia. These will include county institutes of emergency medicine and public health institutes since the COVID crisis has not ended yet, refugees have to be tested and their vaccination status has to be recorded, he said.

Ukrainian refugees fill out a questionnaire from the Croatian Red Cross upon entry, answering also questions about recovering from COVID, vaccination and chronic diseases, so that they can receive all the necessary care.

Wednesday, 12 January 2022

300,000 Croatians to Have Their Free Health Insurance Cancelled

January 12th, 2022 - Those who have left Croatia but keep using Croatian public healthcare at the expense of the state will soon be removed from the HZZO database

As many as 300.000 Croatians could soon have their public health insurance policies cancelled by the Croatian Health Insurance Fund (HZZO), reports Novi list. Namely, Health Minister Vili Beroš has announced that the HZZO would be cancelling the policies of those insured whose residency or employment status does not grant them the right to free health coverage anymore.

Most of that list consists of citizens who emigrated in the last decade and now work and reside abroad, but retain their Croatian public health insurance at the expense of the state on the basis of being unemployed in Croatia.

A large number of such policyholders prefer to use the services of GPs or dentists when they visit Croatia, as they find it much more affordable than the equivalent service in the country they currently reside in. It’s estimated that two thirds of Croatian emigrants avail of their health insurance benefits in such a manner.

The HZZO states that a considerably large number of people benefit from the rights guaranteed by their public health insurance despite not paying the compulsory insurance contributions. The exact number could become known in a month’s time, once HZZO and the Croatian Employment Service (HZZ) have merged their databases.

All citizens who are not on file with the HZZ, but avail of the free compulsory health insurance on the basis of their unemployment status, will have their health insurance policies cancelled, as well as their dependents.

According to the director of the HZZO Lucian Vukelić, those citizens who are not registered with the HZZ as unemployed persons could lose their free health insurance policies as early as in February 2022, once the two institutions have signed the data exchange agreement.

In recent years, many Croatian citizens have left their homeland in search of work; while the number of HZZ applicants dropped significantly as a result, they mostly remained on file with the HZZO and held onto their free health insurance.

A number of Croatian emigrants were removed from the HZZO database in the summer of 2021, after a data exchange with the Ministry of the Interior showed which citizens had cancelled their residency in Croatia.

According to the HZZO, at present it’s nearly impossible to find out which Croatian citizens work in other countries where they also pay their health insurance contributions and where they should thus avail of public healthcare as well. Even though it’s illegal to have public health insurance in two countries simultaneously, there still doesn’t exist a unified EU database that would reflect where citizens have contributory health insurance and use public health services.

‘Considering that there’s a bunch of different insurance providers in most countries, it’s impossible to obtain the data. You would have to search all over Europe for each policyholder individually to find out if they’re insured in a certain country. It so happens that no one in Croatia ever cancels their health insurance; [employers in] most EU countries are obligated to insure their workers upon employment, and so we end up with an enormous number of people who work abroad and are insured in Germany, Austria or Norway, whereas in Croatia their public health insurance remains covered by the national budget’, said Vukelić.

The HZZO does not have the exact figures regarding potential savings for the national budget if Croatians who are not factually unemployed were removed from the HZZO’s list of unemployed policyholders.

However, if we were to consider the 300.000 people in question, based on the health contribution rate of 16.5% of a monthly gross salary of e.g. HRK 5,000, the state is HRK 2,7 billion out of pocket each year. This does not even take into account the annual costs of health services in Croatia that such policyholders avail of.

The HZZO will also look to cancel the policies of Croatian citizens who have not left the country, but use the benefits provided by their health coverage even though they are not paying the contributions.

An example of this are undeclared workers who neither pay for the coverage nor are they on file with the HZZ, but retain their free health insurance. Such persons will need to register with the HZZ and find legal work, i.e. pay the relevant taxes and contributions.
Ljerka Bratonja Martinović

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