Greeks embrace extensive health services

Greeks pay a huge number of visits to doctors and pharmacies, according to a recent survey by the National School of Public Health (ESDY) on how the population uses health services in Greece. The study by the health economics section, headed by Professor Yiannis Kyriopoulos and carried out in collaboration with the World Health Organization, showed that four factors – people’s age, education, income, and, of course, health – were instrumental in how much and how often they took recourse to available health services. Advancing age and worsening health – as estimated by the respondents – brought with them an increase in the number of visits to the doctor and to hospital admissions. Visits to the doctor and consumption of medicines dwindled, however, among those with higher incomes and education levels. «Visits to primary healthcare services (health centers, social security fund clinics and private practices) hover at around seven a year, according to figures from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD),» Kyriopoulos said. These figures, he explained, were collated by social security bodies. «But our study, which was a direct household survey, found on average 1.26 visits a month to doctors (including advice and getting prescriptions approved) – about double the annual figure given by official statistics. It seems that official statistics grossly underestimate the number of visits to private practices, due to the lack of means to collect and process statistics on the private sector.» There are around 25-30,000 practices in Greece, he said. Previous health economy studies back up this conclusion. They found that a significant proportion of the family budget is spent on doctors and other primary healthcare services. Kyriopoulos attributed this relatively high number of visits to health centers, social security fund clinics and private doctors – as compared to other European states – to the fact that there is an extensive provision of services. «Apart from the thousands of private practices, we have 450 providers of primary healthcare in this country, belonging both to the social security funds and the National Health System. Regardless of the administrative problems it has, it’s an extensive network. The supply alone creates additional demand.» Over the last few years, high demand has been intensified by the aging of the population, the tendency for households to take more care of their health and also by the galloping advances in biomedical science. «To what extent rapid investment in biomedical science is useful is something that needs to be examined,» said Kyriopoulos.