European Observatory Summer School 2016 in Venice “Primary care: innovating for integrated, more effective care”

Every year, the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies ( organises a Summer School in the beautiful venue of Venice. This years’ event focused on “primary health care” and gathered a diverse range of participants with all kinds of professional backgrounds and from all parts of Europe. We were glad for the opportunity to enjoy tickets supported by the Young Forum Gastein and experienced an AMAZING week.

This summer school really broadened our horizon concerning primary health care in different European countries, it deepened our knowledge concerning integrated and more effective primary health care and it provided us with new thoughts and ideas for strengthening primary health care. These experiences will be of great use in our future work within our own country of Austria. Some of the main topics that were covered during this week:

  • Providing evidence-based country experiences of different approaches and innovative models of primary care
  • Describing how primary care can serve whole populations, emphasizing vulnerable groups
  • Providing mechanisms and tools that facilitate the integration between health care, public health and social services
  • Providing tools to be able to assess the performance of primary care
  • Exploring innovations that strengthen effectiveness and efficiency of primary care interventions
  • Reviewing how provider payments and incentives can enable primary care in fulfilling its role
  • Systematizing and interpreting primary care innovations and their implementation

Not only that the Summer School provided an ample opportunity to exchange our experiences and make new professional and personal contacts, the whole Summer School took place on the “lonesome” island of San Servolo, which makes you feel like an exposed primary health care think tank group on conclave and accelerates your creative learning experience even more. It is still one of the most beautiful and inspiring islands of the Venice lagoon, only 5 minutes by a bold “traghetti” (ferry). For everyone who shares the prejudice of Venice being sometimes unpleasantly crowed by an unaccountable amount of tourist, we totally recommend to make an early morning run in the deserted “stradine e campielli” or to take a late night “traghetto” trip on the quiet sea.

But still, we were there to learn something after all. Therefore, we attended intense lectures and discussions during the whole day, and afterwards well-organised evening programs. This provided the perfect mix of discovering more of beautiful Venice in a relaxed way, enjoying amazing Italian food and some good glasses of wine afterwards. One of the organised evening programs incorporated this “perfect mix” by holding a special lecture with local healthcare professionals and health system experts in the sunning Palazzo Franchetti which was followed by an interactive panel discussion which allowed us to understand primary health care reforms in Austria, Finland and Slovenia more deeply by directly asking some of the national leaders of these reforms.

Some of the key messages we take home from the amazing primary health care summer school in Venice:

  • The health care systems in Europe and their organisation, governance, strengths and weaknesses are very diverse. This makes Europe the perfect laboratory which can teach us a lot about developing our own health care systems further.
  • Primary health care is the part of the health care system which deals with most of the health needs, most of the time. But we need to give it the attention it deserves, to benefit from it as the cornerstone of any effective and efficient health care system.
  • Health care reform is a social process, which requires the efforts of many stakeholders, interest groups, the media and especially patients. The problem needs to be seen, the solution needs to be supported broadly and the window of opportunity needs to be used.
  • Primary health care system is a theoretical concept with a huge real life impact. Policy maker, researcher and practitioner alike need to communicate it effectively. Why is strong primary health care important for an individual patient? There is a lot of evidence which needs to be translated for the population in an emotional and relevant way.
  • The Health Systems Policy Monitor ( and the Health Systems in Transition series ( are useful tools by the European Observatory for understanding health care systems more deeply

One of the most productive learning experiences at the summer schools was the interactive group work with the goal to develop a strategy for improving primary health care in Austria. Not only this exercise, but the whole summer school, gave us additional energy and inspiration which we would like to bring back home.

We want to thank the Young Forum Gastein for the scholarship that made this unique and unforgettable experience possible!

All the best from Austria.

This Blog was written by the Young Gasteiners Clemens Sigl & Florian Stigler
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