The Health System Is Broken. Where Should We Start Fixing It?
STORY INLINE POST
As a society, we are constantly and resiliently adjusting our ways of life to cope with an ever-changing world.
Change seems to be our only constant. But globalization is another important aspect of our daily lives, and it too shapes our future in an important way. Although it has had positive results in areas like economic development and specifically in medical breakthroughs, a globalized society has yet to prove its advantages when it comes to bringing every person on the planet together around access to quality and essential healthcare.
Despite vast progress in the field of medicine and technology, including precision medicine, genomics, and nano-technology, billions of humans across the world still lack access to basic healthcare.
The numbers are astonishing: According to the World Health Organization (WHO), by 2020, half the world lacked access to essential health services (one out of every two humans!). This reality results in health disparities that build a significant gap in terms of vulnerability.
And this gap has a strong correlation to socioeconomic inequality, which makes it a vicious cycle from which it is practically impossible to come out of. Having less access makes you vulnerable, and the more vulnerable you are the less productive you can be and without economic possibilities, the cycle perpetuates.
Interestingly enough, the most vulnerable end up paying the most. In 2020, “100 million people were pushed into extreme poverty because of health expenses related to an emergency.” states a report by WHO and the World Bank. By 2022, two and a half years into the pandemic, this number rose to 500 million human beings, according to the report).
Furthermore, the healthcare system has been driven to maximize development and interactions at the tertiary level (the hospital stage) instead of shifting the curve toward home and primary care. It is easier to drive patients into a costly hospital than to try to build a system that incentivizes good healthcare at reasonable costs and available mainly at home. In the end, every patient (and their families) feels the need to go all the way to the top and look for a more specialized physician than to start from the bottom up with a general practitioner.
An alternative is to invest in last-mile, patient-centered systems where the quality of life and healthcare outcomes should be the key indicators.
This approach could also have an important implication for cost savings that could be better allocated and used to create better standards of living.
We must recognize that the system is broken. The question is: Where should we start fixing it?
People shouldn’t be left alone with the decision of where or when to go when in need of medical care. A progressive model that starts at a remote stage and guides the patient through a home-first approach, escalating to hospital care when necessary, with the capacity of solving the majority of cases at home, should be implemented on a mass scale.
The good news is that the pandemic accelerated the adoption curve for this type of service. In our home and primary care model, out of 250,000 total cases of services provided (telemedicine and home care), 85% were resolved at home without the need to transport the patient to a hospital. This reduced costs and bettered the quality of life of thousands of patients.
Setting up the right scale at a massive level would mean redistribution of costs and allocating more funds on the primary level, allowing for many more to be included, while preventing unnecessary visits to more complex and costly levels of care.
When talking about access in our modern world, technology has to play a key role to guarantee not only sustainability but continuity of the new systems. Technological development is everywhere and what better way to apply it than to solve for universal access to healthcare?
The health situation worldwide in the last decade has forced us to take a step forward and prioritize the effective use of technology to solve the most pressing problems of society. This has led to an inevitable and important change for the healthcare industry, not only by delivering better solutions in terms of economic output but also by improving the quality of life of underserved and vulnerable populations on a massive scale. All these advances are known as healthtech; the use of technology through innovative tools in the field of healthcare.
Telemedicine and remote access through online apps have been in the spotlight over the last few years, even more so after the pandemic. Due to this progress, physicians have been able to deliver counseling to patients independently of where they are in the world, helping to determine who needs emergency assistance, while preventing unnecessary visits to clinics and optimizing costs and time, playing a decisive role in the way humans interact with healthcare.
My two cents: access to healthcare should not only be a human right, it should also be a reality. We must join efforts to include businesses, society, and governments to work together in public-private cooperation to achieve this goal, which, apart from being an elemental right, is also a US Sustainable Development Goal (SDG No. 3).