Those of us inside the healthcare industry often talk about the drivers of healthcare. There are many: politics, economic trends, culture, consumerism, changing burdens of disease, technological advances, and many more. A big shift in any of these factors can have a significant impact on how healthcare is delivered and paid for.
Perhaps less obvious, though, is the way in which the reverse can also be true. Rather than merely being a product of what’s going on around it, healthcare can be an active driver of much of what happens in the world.
The political arena is one place where healthcare’s growing influence is obvious. Here in the US, healthcare policy discussions rarely came up in election stump speeches. Now it’s a major campaign issue, which means that the state of healthcare and approaches to healthcare financing are playing a role in determining who will be the nation’s leaders, not just vice-versa.
Healthcare’s political influence is as great or greater in many regions of the world. That’s especially true in countries where healthcare has long been lagging behind the most industrialized nations, but is now advancing on the shoulders of rapidly growing middle classes. Many nations in Asia and Latin America fit that description. In Peru, Colombia, Malaysia, and India, to name a few examples, healthcare has been a significant campaign issue in national elections. In other countries, such as China and the United Arab Emirates, where national leadership is less likely to shift via election, governments still find it important to be responsive to public demands for better healthcare and are investing heavily in it.
In the economic realm, too, healthcare serves not only to reflect trends but also as a driver. In the US, the number of people employed in healthcare dwarfs employment in most other industries, and that’s increasingly true around the world as well. New high-tech healthcare companies are as a group one of the fastest-growing and most important segments of the high-tech startup world, and established high-tech giants including Google, Apple and Microsoft are all investing heavily in pushing the boundaries of healthcare-related information systems. Meanwhile, on the negative side of the economic equation, private healthcare insurance has become a major budget item for most consumers, as well as a daunting cost to employers.
Healthcare is also a key component of important social trends. Thanks to those advances in technology, more and more people are integrating healthcare-related activities, communication, and metrics into their daily lives via apps and online tools. More important, healthcare improvements have helped ensure that many of us are living longer lives and enjoying a higher quality of life throughout our later years than have previous generations. That’s a very good thing, of course, but it has also led to the challenge of society’s needing to provide much more eldercare than in the past.
I could go on, and discuss healthcare as an element of international diplomacy and trade, as a magnet for educational achievement in high-school through post-graduate programs, as a factor in community building, and more. And I’m sure healthcare’s sphere of influence will only expand and intensify in the coming decade. So, though I wouldn’t go as far as saying that healthcare is the dominant force in the shaping of our world, I think it’s pretty clearly a significant component. Hopefully healthcare will be a driver of mostly positive change moving forward. But only time will tell.