Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Public Health and Consumer Care*

The progress of any nation is affected when its people's productivity is hindered by ill health. Thus, one of the key concerns that state governments should address is public health.

With its aim to end poverty by 2015, the United Nations (UN) implemented an eight-point program called Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2000. The MDGs underline the imperative of good and sustainable public health for all people across the globe. The World Health Organization (WHO) (2007) emphasizes the need to combat diseases that undermine the health of workers, families, and children in order to overcome poverty.

Together with education and shelter, budgetary allocation for health should be more than enough to support programs, services, and facilities, such as public hospitals and community health clinics. Support for the needs of professionals, paramedics, and other health workers, particularly in terms of their remuneration and benefits, should be adequately provided. Sadly, according to the WHO (2007), there are many areas in the world, especially in Africa, where these resources are scarce. Amarakoon Bandara (2005) also writes about a similar condition in Asia and the Pacific.

Public health definition and policies

The Association of Schools of Public Health (ASPH) describes public health as both a science and an art that is geared towards "protecting and improving the health of communities through education, promotion of healthy lifestyles, and research for disease and injury prevention." Public health policies, programs and services are then designed to include these strategies.

For the Health Programme (2008-2013) of the European Union (EU), promoting good health requires "addressing the major determinants of ill health associated with morbidity and early mortality" like those related to smoking cessation, sexual health protection, injury reduction, and cancer prevention. The strategy of the United Kingdom (UK)'s Department of Health, for instance, includes provisions for immunization, nutrition, drugs recovery, pregnancy, and children's health, among others. In the United States (US), the Department of Health and Human Services (USDHHS) launched a 10-year initiative in 2010 called Healthy People 2020. This framework set forth a vision of society where people "live long, healthy lives". To realize this vision, the framework recognizes the need to "[a]chieve health equity, eliminate disparities, and improve the health of all groups."

Such seemingly progressive public health policies and programs have contributed to costly health care in highly advanced countries. This situation is a far cry from what policymakers in Southeast Asia have opted to do. Bloomberg Businessweek's Bruce Einhorn (2010) reports that in spite of existing national health-care networks, governments in this region have promoted a policy that encourages privatization of health care to avert rising government subsidy for public health services.

Health care providers from the private-sector augment State-funded resources for public health. Consequently, a significant portion of the public is composed of consumers who avail of health-related products and services, such as insurance, hospitalization, and medical consultation. This makes consumer health an integral component of public health.

What is consumer health?

Public health advisory helps consumers make spending health-related decisions.

According to Stephen Barrett and colleagues (2006), consumer health primarily involves the commerce of health products and services. Aside from the ones previously cited, these may include vitamins, exercise equipment, private medical and dental clinics, books, etc.

Barrett et al. (2006) point out that though consumer health information and goods provide the public with several options, people are also subjected to deception or misinformation. These authors have included a worksheet for the reading public to take to examine their level of awareness when it comes to consumer health issues.

Consumer health care resources

The market offers various products, services, and information on consumer health. For example, US-based companies like Humana that offers health insurance, Ameriplan (with its medical plans and discount dental plans that are different from insurance policies), and MinuteClinic which is a retail medical clinic and pharmacy. In India, Dr. Pratap Reddy established Apollo Hospitals in 1983 to address the lack of health care infrastructure in the region.

Another route towards effective health care delivery is through private-public partnership (PPP). Such is the case when GlaxoSmithKline and the National University of Singapore (NUS) collaborated to launch the NUS Initiative to Improve Health in Asia (NIHA) in 2010. NUS received substantial funding from the GSK-Singapore and the country's Economic Development Board (EDB) to work on policies related to "public health and health systems development in Asia".

The public as health care consumers

Indeed, many state governments have turned to the private sector, including foreign investors, to respond to the demands of their citizens for various products and services that they need in order to survive and/or achieve a better quality of life.

Health care has become an industry that has contributed to the development of medicines and health-related technologies that have helped people resolve their health problems and issues. In spite of private-sector efforts, however, political leaders and policymakers need to ensure that those who cannot afford health products and services are still given assistance, for they also deserve to live and be productive.


*All sources for this post are highlighted.

Other related sources:

Arnold, S. 2007,  Improving Quality Health Care: The Role of Consumer Engagement. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. 

President & Fellows of Harvard College 2012, Impact of Entrepreneurs on Consumer-Driven Health Care. Session with Professor Regina E. Herzlinger (2008).

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