The golden triangle of ideal healthcare consists of accessibility, affordability and quality. The sustainability of healthcare depends on the latter two, hence, it is important that we look at the ways in which it can be made accessible for the communities we serve.
The healthcare sector is one of the most important domains that impacts the entire global population and is closely linked to the development of any country. It also plays a crucial role in how a country is perceived in maintaining economic stability. As such, healthcare systems form a key part of government strategies across the world, and the level of industry expenditure is projected to increase at an annual rate of 4.1 per cent globally between 2017-2021.
However, as healthcare spending increases and the industry continues to evolve, accessibility remains a key challenge. At least half of the world’s population does not have access to the health services they need, which is an alarmingly high rate, particularly as this is a sector that impacts most people at some point in their life. In addition to this, it is estimated that 100 million people are driven into poverty each year through out-of-pocket health spending, given the lack of access to quality, affordable healthcare.
Countries with a robust healthcare framework often have long waiting lists to access the relevant specialist or have a simple surgery carried out. Some countries have systems in place that do not provide the best quality care due to lack of resources or budget constraints. And less-developed countries have a limited number of facilities that are understaffed and under-resourced, with those living in rural or remote areas having to travel long distances to obtain the healthcare assistance they require.
This leads to patients spending beyond their means on healthcare – in fact, globally, 800 million people spend at least 10 per cent of their household budgets to get the required treatment for themselves or someone in their family. Unfortunately, more often than not, these expenses are forcing more households into poverty each year.
The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Universal Health Coverage (UHC) initiative aims to tackle this and is supported by the UN, setting UHC as one of the targets when adopting the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015. So, what can be done by the private sector to support these goals and increase access to quality healthcare in local markets?
Working hand-in-hand with the public sector
With increasing spend on healthcare comes increased pressure on governments to provide health services to the community. Working closely through public-private partnerships (PPPs), as well as maintaining a dialogue between the two sectors, creates a healthy ecosystem to ensure that as many people as possible have access to healthcare.
The private sector should also provide affordable healthcare options for all members of the community, including those in the lower-income bracket. This relieves some of the pressure of the public sector and provides patients with quality healthcare options and affordable prices.
Educate and empower the health workforce
The WHO estimates a projected shortfall of 18 million health workers by 2030, and states that countries at all levels of socioeconomic development face some degree of difficulties in the education, employment, deployment, retention and performance of their workforce. It is important that we invest in the education and training of our local workforce, placing patient-centred care at the core to ensure that we are contributing not only to battle the shortfall, but to work towards increasing accessibility.
As we are passing through a digital revolution, markets with more developed healthcare systems, such as the UAE, have an opportunity to leverage this. Through implementing digital solutions and upskilling teams on how to use them, we can empower the health workforce to utilise the latest technologies in healthcare solutions.
Investment in research and development (R&D)
Developments in technology over the past decade have had a huge impact on the healthcare industry, and we have only just scratched the surface. As we are progressing through the fourth industrial revolution, there is still a long way to go before we utilise the full potential of technology to improve accessibility in healthcare, globally. Currently, there are fitness trackers and mobile apps that allow individuals to monitor their own health conditions remotely in more developed markets. Digital health is being touted as a progressive solution for some of healthcare's most intractable issues. Although at its infancy in healthcare, advocates claim that the digital future will bring more precise interventions, higher health outcomes, more efficiency, and eventually lower healthcare costs. Through investing in R&D, key players in the private sector will be able to develop solutions that can further enhance remote patient care and cater to specific patient groups, particularly those in remote areas with limited access to healthcare facilities.
The UAE Vision 2021 strives to achieve a world-class healthcare system and through its efforts, it aims to be among the best countries in the world in terms of quality of healthcare. The private sector has a key role to play, and while it is often related to profit, I strongly believe that profit should be a by-product and not our purpose in healthcare. Through working together with the public sector, as well as giving back to the communities that we serve, we can work towards improving access to healthcare in our local markets with the intention of battling a larger, global issue, one country at a time.
Dr. Azad Moopen
References available on request.
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