According to the Euro Health Consumer index, Romania has ranked last in the EU for the past two years regarding healthcare. The country has one of the EU’s highest poverty rates at 19.8 percent; nearly double the EU’s overall poverty rate. Because of the physical and mental restrictions sickness places on a community, healthcare is a basic necessity for lifting people out of poverty. Despite the country’s bleak rankings, improving healthcare in Romania is becoming a reality as foreign assistance and determined locals work toward developing a healthier population and fighting poverty.
Hardships Cause Doctors to Leave
Romania’s population of close to 20 million people has struggled through major changes and hardships over the past few decades. The country transferred from communist control into a constitutional republic and struggled through a financial crisis in 2008. The financial crisis rendered Romania a needy recipient of a $24 billion bailout given through the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission, the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
Through these challenging times, many doctors began leaving Romania in search of higher-quality facilities, supplies, hours and pay. This loss of doctors and other medical professionals is sometimes referred to as a brain drain or a medical exodus. Since 2011, the number of family doctors in Romania decreased by 25 percent. Although thousands of doctors and nurses have left Romania, there is still hope on the horizon.
Efforts to Improve Healthcare
Through foreign aid and local perseverance, efforts are underway for improving healthcare in Romania. Several small hospitals in desperate need of infrastructural repairs and supplies are now undergoing renovation. For example, Victor Babes Infectious Diseases Hospital in the city of Timisoara is now undergoing major renovations to improve issues such as rusty furniture, peeling paint and a lack of basic supplies like curtains. Better-equipped medical facilities are also undergoing improvements. Ponderas Hospital in Bucharest is implementing two surgical robots that increase surgical maneuverability and reduce complications.
A centralization effort of improvements is also underway. Affidea and Hiperdia, two large diagnostic imaging companies with over 37 years of combined experience in Romania, merged in 2017. While some fear such a merger omits beneficial competition, others are hopeful that the merger will increase the quality and efficiency of healthcare in Romania. Affidea is active in at least 12 countries in Europe and has more than 5,000 employees.
Affidea’s manager for Romania, Radu Gorduza, declares the merger will bring a golden standard to Romania, which he hopes will inspire others in Romania’s healthcare system. He exhibits a very optimistic view of the situation, saying, “There is so much room for improvement here.” Plans are underway for major renovations and remodeling of waiting rooms to be more patient-friendly, as well as ensuring that employees have empathetic qualities and “soft skills.” Gorduza states that the merger will also improve Romania’s information technology infrastructure by providing remote access to imaging services through telemedicine.
The Implementation of Telemedicine
Telemedicine implementation is an important part of improving healthcare in Romania; half of Romania’s population lives in rural areas, but nearly all of the country’s hospitals are located in urban areas. Remote mountains and the Danube Delta present difficult terrain to travel for many people, and telemedicine is helping to connect doctors with people in these areas without necessitating travel. The EU funded the Romanian government with $19 million for implementing a telemedicine network for people in rural areas; the network was completed at the end of 2015.
Steps are also being taken to incentivize doctors and other medical professionals to stay in Romania rather than joining the exodus of thousands of others seeking better pay and working conditions elsewhere. The incentives include better benefits, higher salaries and reimbursement for participating in telemedicine.
Overall, while healthcare improvements are in the early stages of development in Romania due to the lasting effects of a communist dictatorship and a financial crisis, there are many reasons for Romanians and their allies to be optimistic about the future. Through foreign assistance and local participation, healthcare in Romania is slowly but steadily improving.
– Emme Leigh