Governments and international organizations, like the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations, have made significant strides toward improving global health. For example, according to the WHO, the global average life expectancy increased by five years (to 71.4 years) between 2000 and 2015, a faster increase than any since the 1960s. Despite this, significant challenges remain. The WHO also reports that 16,000 children under the age of 5 died every day during 2015.
Increasingly, there are ways that businesses can get involved in the global healthcare industry. Companies often have the means and scale to participate in global healthcare in ways that have a major impact. For those interested in entering the business of global healthcare, it’s important to understand some of the health issues facing the world right now.
Global Healthcare Issues
Global Health Risks
While the business of global healthcare must focus on a variety of different risk factors and kinds of treatment, these 10 risk factors are responsible for 33 percent of deaths worldwide:
- High blood pressure
- Tobacco use
- High blood glucose
- Physical inactivity
- Overweight and obesity
- High cholesterol
- Unsafe sex
- Alcohol use
- Childhood underweight
- Indoor smoke from solid fuels
Those involved with global healthcare must focus not only on risk factors for loss of life, but also risk factors for loss of quality of life. The WHO uses a metric known as Disability-Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) to measure this form of loss. According to the WHO, “One DALY can be thought of as one lost year of ‘healthy’ life. The sum of these DALYs across the population, or the burden of disease, can be thought of as a measurement of the gap between current health status and an ideal health situation where the entire population lives to an advanced age, free of disease and disability.”
Demographics play an important role in determining the relative importance of these risk factors. Different issues affect populations in varying ways based on their relative wealth and access to nutrition, education and healthcare. For example, according to the WHO, high blood pressure is a significant risk factor among high- and middle-income populations and is the leading cause of death among those populations. In low-income populations, however, unsafe sex and children being underweight are much more pressing issues; in fact, both are the leading factors in DALYs in those populations.
Preventative care for risk factors in global health takes many forms. Businesses promoting global healthcare must work with governments to fund necessary programs such as hospitals and clinics, but also education and programs that grant access to food, clean water, and safe work environments and places to live.
The WHO’s mission is “To provide leadership and direction for urgent global, regional and national efforts to promote health and to prevent and control major chronic diseases and their risk factors.” To that end, the WHO focuses on four core functions, which businesses promoting global healthcare can also adopt:
- Advocacy. The first step in promoting global healthcare is raising awareness of the challenges being faced. This helps to ensure funding and attention, as well as promoting education about issues in global health.
- Health promotion. By promoting healthy, safe lifestyles, healthcare providers can mitigate some of the leading risk factors. Businesses can work to provide populations with access to necessities for health, such as clean water, nutritious food, hospitals and exercise facilities.
- Surveillance and population-based prevention. In order to prevent chronic and communicable disease as well as other threats, businesses must be aware of the current state of global health. This means monitoring the spread of disease through populations, in addition to tracking factors like diet, exercise and workplace safety.
- Prevention and management. Businesses can help fund and promote preventative programs. This might take the form of cancer research, anti-smoking campaigns or workplace exercise programs.
Care delivery all over the world involves ensuring that at-risk populations have access to life-saving or life-improving treatments. People, especially in poor populations, die of preventable diseases on a regular basis, often because of limited access to proper care. There are a variety of factors that contribute to this, some on the caregivers’ side and some on the patients’ side. Hospitals and clinics, for example, operate under budget constraints, and an increase in spending on treating a particular risk factor may come at the cost of reduced spending on another. Healthcare providers also often operate under staff constraints; simply put, a hospital doesn’t always have the staff available to treat everyone. Patients in poor populations, at the same time, deal with limited access to transportation, poor nutrition, social norms with negative health impacts and limited ability to pay for treatment.
Providing healthcare to remote or low-income areas is expensive, and finding ways to reduce that cost is necessary to providing care to those who need it. Many companies are focusing on reducing administrative waste or increasing efficiency, and new financial models that incentivize providing care to the most at-risk areas are also emerging. In addition, promoting good health management in populations can reduce the overall cost of providing healthcare, as these preventative measures put less burden on treatment.
There are many ways businesses can innovate to help bring down costs and ensure better care. New technologies, like 3-D printing, artificial intelligence and biosensors, can help deliver higher-quality care and can be used to treat conditions and diseases that are otherwise untreatable. Telehealth services can be used to deliver care to people in remote areas or people in at-risk populations who don’t have easy access to healthcare services.
Innovation isn’t always about pushing the latest technology; sometimes it’s about ensuring access to basic needs like nutrition, clean water and safe jobs that pay enough to allow people to seek treatment when they need it.
It’s important to recognize that global healthcare is both a practical and an ethical concern. From a practical perspective, focusing on global healthcare can help limit loss of life, the spread of disease and other risks that affect large populations of people and travel between populations. From an ethical perspective, access to healthcare is intrinsically tied to issues of justice and opportunity. Populations with more ready access to healthcare have more access to opportunities to improve their situations, so pursuing equity in global healthcare has a direct impact on the overall welfare and prosperity of disadvantaged populations.
Operational and Regulatory Concerns
Innovation and ethics both impact the operational and regulatory realities of global healthcare. Increased competition within the global healthcare marketplace and the emergence of market disruptors create a need for systems that reduce waste, improve safety, promote standardization and require evidence-based changes. Regulatory agencies become increasingly necessary in the large, complex global healthcare environment in order to guard against additional risks like counterfeit drugs, cyberthreats, safety hazards and corruption within the industry.
Starting a Career in Global Health
Engaging with the business of global healthcare requires a firm grasp of both health issues and business principles. An online bachelor’s in business administration from Concordia University Texas, with a concentration in global health and economic development, can help graduates get the start they need. Learn in a rigorous online environment that accommodates your schedule.