GHF2008 – PL01 – Tomorrow’s Health Systems: In Phase with Reality?

Session Outline

Plenary session PL01, Monday, May 26 2008, 9:00-10:30, Room 2
Chair(s): Louis Loutan, President of the Organizing Committee, Geneva Health Forum, Switzerland & Maria NeiraDirector, Public Health and Environment, WHO, Switzerland
Global Transitions: Chronic Diseases and Ageing - Challenges to Health Systems
Andy Haines, Director, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK  
Emerging Poles of Power and Expertise 
Richard Samans, Managing Director, World Economic Forum, Switzerland 
Health in the Digital World: Key Trends that Health Professionals Cannot Afford to Miss
Kendall Ho, Associate Dean and Director, Division of Continuing Professional Development and Knowledge Translation, Faculty of Medicine, University of British Columbia, Canada 
India at the Forefront of Health Services
Sangita Reddy, Executive Director (Operations), Apollo Hospitals Group, India 

Session Documents

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Session Videos

Session Report

Submitted by: Cathy Matovu (ICVolunteers); Contributors: Janina M. Mank (ICVolunteers)

Photo: James Gathany, http://phil.cdc.gov/Phil/

The world is moving at a faster pace than ever before. Technology is advancing considerably and people from varied backgrounds and geographic situations are now able to communicate and interact instantly. The development of health systems in the world has been particularly slow to this transition and organizations all over the world continue to strive to meet these changes by searching for ways to create better access to health care.

The world is moving at a faster pace than ever before. Technology is advancing considerably and people from varied backgrounds and geographic situations are now able to communicate and interact instantly. The development of health systems in the world has been particularly slow to this transition and organizations all over the world continue to strive to meet these changes by searching for ways to create better access to health care.

Director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), Professor Andrew Haines discussed the issues concerning chronic diseases, aging populations in the world and the challenges these pose towards health systems. Over the years, we have witnessed a considerable increase of older persons in the world, Haines explained. Statistics predict that by 2050 almost 25% of the world's population will be over 65. Public expenditure has increased due to these ageing populations and, in addition, people are becoming more and more dependent and reliant on health care. Lung cancer and diabetes are the leading diseases affecting populations today. Haines argueed that this largely affects the cost of health systems. He maintained that in order to reduce these problems, governments must promote the decrease in salt-intake and the regulation of tobacco use which could potentially prevent up to 15 million deaths a year. Moreover, low- and middle-income countries are beginning to experience these types of health problems. Some preventive strategies for low- and middle-income countries, Haines added, include more public and tax funding and task shifting which essentially means delegating certain responsibilities to less skilled health workers.

IT (Information Technology) usage has become increasingly widespread in almost all sectors of the economy, but the health sector seems to stagger. Professor Kendall Ho from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada, questioned how we can use the digital world to bring excellence to health. We must shift from the traditional setting to a cyber world, where patients are able to virtually collaborate with their health care facilities through, for example, the creation of common documents, a private health record that is patient-centered or common information systems available on the Web, Ho argued. In order to do so, we have to incorporate the interconnected trends already present, e.g social networking, self-organizing communities, the democratization of information-sharing, the co-creation of knowledge and the individualization of knowledge management.

Richard Samans, Managing Director of the World Economic Forum, added that IT has empowered market actors to handle risk a lot better, which has also enabled people to be more comfortable with investing. The role of IT plays an important part in the development of health systems and is actually, according to Sammans, one of the elements needed to stimulate the global economy. He further argued that the problems that we experience in the health sector are largely linked to the economic problems in the world today. He pointed out that multilateral institutions are struggling to contend with the relatively recent fundamental shifts in power and expertise in the world.

In relation to this last point, Sangita Reddy from Apollo Hospitals Group stated that important organizations such as Doctors without Borders, continue to experience these barriers and still encounter "borders" as far as health issues are concerned. She presented the case study of her native India, where the health system can be described as "islands of excellence in an ocean of inadequacy", having recognized the trends of change in speed, momentum and direction of public health, customer awareness in a fast and connected digital world, technology and eHealth, increasing healthcare expenditure, an increase in lifestyle diseases, and lastly, the shortage in global manpower in the health sector. Reddy claimed that her nation-state India is a "healthcare destination", where its vision for healthcare excels and is not only relevant for the population of India, but for people all over the world. With a large main-d'oeuvre, India has an abundance of qualified doctors and nurses and is the world's leader of medical research and technology. She further claimed that health care today is disparate and disconnected. We must unite and work in parallel in order for changes to be made. "I believe that health care will no longer be shaped by [the] differences of our past but the commonalities of our future," she concluded.

There is potential for effective interventions not only in order to reduce costs substantially, but also to create a health system that is in phase with reality. Mr. Samans' recommendation is to engage business in public health, in order to be able to reach the majority of the world's population at decreased cost. Professor Haines suggested that since a rapidly aging population inflicts major social change especially in low-income countries, it is our duty to improve the system in a timely fashion, for example, by creating a clinical information system to track progress and enhance support for patients, as well as by scaling up the amount of health workers available. Ms. Reddy was quick to point out the tremendous importance of standardizing and validating health knowledge, terminology, legislation and training, creating applications that are in touch with the market, as well as keeping the costs down to facilitate an easy flow of information. Thus, her vision is to provide accessible healthcare for people everywhere, which is achievable if management of access, technology, infrastructure and human resources can be improved. Professor Ho's complimentary idea is to captivate the digital technology trends and find out how they can help us improve the system of global and public health.

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