Supporting cooperation in the Greece-Bulgaria

More than 70% of the total Greece-Bulgaria cross-border area is mountainous, with scattered remote small village, inhabited mainly by elder and low-income people, who do not have access to primary healthcare services. Large medical centers are far away and the habitants face severe difficulties regarding the accessibility and quality of fundamental healthcare. The only solution for years was the transfer of the patients to metropole cities.

Imagine being 75 years old and living in Kechros a Greek village with 147 residents, in the borders with Bulgaria, and you have just been informed that your brother, next door, has fever. Which is your next step, as the nearest hospital is 65 km far away from your region?

Improving the effectiveness of local hospitals is of top importance, accompanied by the innovative solution of remote monitoring and health caring (telemedicine). Thus, the Cooperation Programme Interreg “Greece-Bulgaria 2014-2020”, since September of 2017, has funded 13 projects[1], relevant to remote health care.

The issue amplifies especially when it comes to the elderly and disabled citizens, who require continuous treatment. Overall, it is a fact that the habitants of the remote areas often become victims of social discrimination and are excluded of their social rights. Most of the projects are tackling this challenge by establishing responsive e-social health care systems and mobile units for remote medical services. Every project, with stimulus the needs of its intervention area and the target group, created different strategies, improving the health services provided to many patients in the borders of Bulgaria and Greece.

Remote patient monitoring (telemedicine) gives the ability for fast and convenient checking outside of conventional clinical settings, such as in the patient’s residence, which may increase access to care and decrease healthcare delivery costs. It involves the constant remote care of patients by their physicians, often to track physical symptoms, chronic conditions, or post-hospitalization rehab. It allows long-distance patient and clinician contact, care, advice, reminders, education, intervention, monitoring, and remote admissions. Improving this aspect, through the Programme funds patients of the remote areas were equipped with around 600 Wireless Medical Sensors, for keeping track of functioning of human body, such as heart rate, oxygen saturation, blood pressure (systolic and diastolic) and physical activity (recording of steps and sleep).

Six (6) of the projects launched applications (four (4) web apps and two (2) mobile apps), for monitoring patients’ health care situation, remotely, on monthly basis. The creation of remote accessible folders of patient’s medical records, establish a database and make constant visits to hospitals unnecessary. The user (elderly or disabled) uses the provided device, which records on regular intervals and measurements and categorizes them in the patient’s electronic files. Data that will be collected, will be immediately accessible by themselves, their doctors, their attendees and their relatives. Medical staff have the ability to monitor examinations remotely, make diagnoses and give medical advices.

But when it’s deemed necessary, patients are recommended to be transferred to the hospitals and for that scope, seven (7) mobile units and one (1) mobile medical intensive care unit were acquired with funds from the Programme. Given the obstacle of transferability of elderly, hospitals were equipped with six (6) cars or vans, for emergencies for remote areas, whose capabilities and size are corresponded to the needs, the population and demographic structure of the region. A lot of effort has been invested in prevention and as a result, most of the mobile units include equipment for a primary diagnosis and also local hospitals were equipped with a mobile unit for cancer prevention and fast diagnosis. Of great importance is also the health of newborns and children and a mobile intensive care unit was also procured for that reason.

The cooperation helped the trade of experience and medical practices of the medical staff - doctors and nurses. Seven (7) joint training programs had as a result to educate both experienced and in-experienced medical staff. More than 200 medical personnel and experts exchanged know-how and were trained by medical experts. Nineteen (19) health training sessions, regarding emergency report in the Emergency Room (ER) and first aid rescue, took place by all the projects, with the active participation of more than 600 experts. Lifelong learning scopes to expertise staff and to bring innovative solutions to the care systems through the policy recommendations.

As a conclusion, life in the cross-border region has been greatly and positively affected by health projects funded by the Cooperation Programme Interreg VA “Greece-Bulgaria 2014-2020”. The 75 years old man can continue his life in the safe and cozy environment of his village, leaning on the offering health services. Even though these projects were not planned to face or inspired by the severe health threats that appeared during the Covid pandemic; they definitely eased its confrontation and eliminated its affect.

[1] eSOHECA, E/HEALTH, eHealth Monitoring, Equal2Health, HS Care, Intersyc II, Med4All, Medicinet II, RemoteCare, SMARTMED, SMILE, The Health Municipality, Health Care Center

Michail Tzacheilis - IVY Reporter for the Interreg programme Greece - Bulgaria

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