Demand for healthcare is growing rapidly in developing countries. Rising middle classes and lengthening life expectancy is driving the demand for health services. Spending on health care is increasing, particularly in relation to non-communicable diseases.
Many low- and middle-income countries struggle to provide basic care via public health systems, while increasingly called upon to address diseases of an aging population like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Many poorer families turn to the private sector for quality care, but paying for it can be a burden.
Overcoming these challenges will require the investment, the expertise, and the innovation of the private sector.
Some answers were obvious—public and private health sectors must work better together to deliver universal care. Some were surprising. Hospitals often focus too much on revenue growth, without understanding their cost drivers. Fully understanding and controlling costs will determine survival in an environment where reimbursement rates are restricted and capacity to pay is constrained for governments and individuals alike.
Some answers were inspiring. If you build something big, like Dr. Devi Shetty, you have the potential to deliver complex heart surgery at a cost of $1500 from admission to discharge. This high volume, low margin model of service delivery holds the possibility for disassociating the wealth of a nation from the level of health care available to its citizens.
Dr. Shetty, founder of Narayana Hospitals, believes India will be the first nation to achieve this, and will do it within a decade. Reaching the ideal—that every person can get the health care they need without suffering undo financial hardship--will require us to rethink our beliefs about health care. Policymakers must not think of health primarily as a cost burden, but as a source of growing employment for skilled and unskilled workers.
Technology is not only a driver of higher health costs, but also offers new ways of reaching millions of people at little cost. Interaction between health professionals and patients can now happen remotely to better support care delivery. Smart software is helping doctors provide better diagnoses, and could eventually provide second opinions.
“Technology will not replace doctors, it will make them safer and more efficient,” said Dr. Shetty. In fact, the world needs millions more doctors, nurses and other kinds of health professionals to achieve goals for expanding access to quality care, he said.
This too is achievable, if we open our minds about when, where, how, and who can deliver care to patients.