The Global Healthcare Summit 2012

Rebecca Aris

pharmaphorum

Economist Conferences recently held ‘The Global Healthcare Summit 2012’ event in London, which discussed tomorrow’s healthcare challenges, visions for the future of healthcare and how we’re going to create the healthy citizen. This article offers an overview of some of the topics discussed on day two of the event.

Policy and propaganda – creating the healthy citizen

In population surveys of what matters to people, health is always regarded as first or second in order of importance, explained Monika Kosinska, Secretary-General, European Public Health Alliance. This is surprising when you consider that 1.6 billion people go to bed overweight every night (whilst 1 billion go to bed hungry!). What is it then that motivates people to make unhealthy choices?

A question that recurred throughout the morning session was ‘how do we get people to do things that are good for them?’ “It is unbelievably hard,” explained CEO of Weight Watchers International David Kirchhoff, who feels some days that he’s “in the business of selling homework”. David explained that unfortunately it is messages around looking good that motivate people into losing weight as opposed to messages around diabetes prevention and health improvement. People generally prefer messages around what will make them look good.

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“How then do you motivate someone to take charge of their health?”

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How then do you motivate someone to take charge of their health? Some thoughts that came out of the morning session:-

• We need to shift public perception.

• People need motivation, nudging and encouraging.

• We need to encourage personal responsibility.

• Media need to give more space to evidence based perspectives on health and take responsibility for the messages they deliver.

David went on to explain the reasons as to why people overeat, in many cases it’s caused by their reward system. When people feel vulnerable or stressed they seek comfort with food or alcohol. Is it any surprise then, he asked, in these times of economic stress that alcohol problems and obesity – conditions which are drivers of chronic disease and healthcare costs – become more prevalent?

He suggested that we need a more proactive response in low income communities, where typically healthier non-processed food is less available owing to the cost. We need to look for clever ways to intervene to get healthy foods to low income communities, he suggested.

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“…how health has moved higher up the political agenda in recent years…”

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Facing future challenges for global health

The keynote address of day two was delivered by Zsuzsanna Jakab, Regional Director for Europe, WHO. She began by highlighting how health has moved higher up the political agenda in recent years and how it is increasingly seen as a measure of human right and social justice.

In Europe, she explained, we’ve made excellent progress in the last 20 years to improve life expectancy and many other health indicators. However, there are a number of challenges and there is a huge health divide in our region1. One example cited by Zsuzsanna was that “unemployment was associated with a doubling of the risk of illness”. She introduced the idea of the social gradient – the notion that ‘the poorest of the poor, around the world, have the worst health’.

The European health policy – so called Health 2020 – was recently adopted by the 53 member states of Europe. It was developed as a response to the need to have a unifying policy framework in Europe. Implementing such a policy at a time of economic crisis means that the policy will impact on the economics.

The Health 2020 policy is based on four priority areas for policy action1:-

• Investing in health through a life-course approach and empowering people,

• Tackling the Region’s major health challenges of non-communicable and communicable diseases,

• Strengthening people-centred health systems, public health capacity and emergency preparedness, surveillance and response, and

• Creating resilient communities and supportive environments.

These aims will be achieved through a combination of individual and collective efforts and full political commitment is required to fulfil these aims.

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“From an industry perspective, we need to better harness data, and work more closely with our colleagues in the NHS…”

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Health 2020 and the challenges that lie ahead

Following Zsuzsanna’s keynote address, highlighting the social divide in health, Peter Goldblatt, Deputy Director, Institute of Health Equity, UCL, suggested that there needs to be universal provision to provide a basic service to everyone. However, he highlighted that there is a criticism of universal systems that it doesn’t allow you to deal with the special problems of deprived groups and people in the middle of the gradient. He also highlighted how the gradient isn’t linear in every country.

In addition, David McDaid, Research Fellow in Health Policy and Health Economics, highlighted how we need to consider the issue of co-morbidities of disease. The cost of managing diabetes in a patient with diabetes and depression could be 2–3 higher than treating a patient with diabetes alone. He used this example to present an argument for early intervention of depression in such cases and the need to educate around reducing morbidity in co-morbidities between physical and mental health problems.

Conclusion

Speakers throughout the day suggested that health promotion and disease prevention activities could avoid huge healthcare costs – yet we only invest 3% of our health expenditure on into prevention across the European region. Remedies such as increasing tobacco and alcohol taxes result in health improvements, and reduced healthcare and could be one solution towards improving health and reducing healthcare costs.

A recurring theme throughout the day was the current economic climate and the challenges this presented to the healthcare space. However, it was also suggested that maintaining spending on health during economic downturn, is critical to protect health.

It’s clear that progress needs to be made to level out social inequalities. And a drive towards encouraging people to take responsibility of their own health is essential. Interventions are available for disease prevention and a greater importance needs to be placed on them in order to save money on healthcare in the long run and empower people to take their health into their own hands. Achieving the vision of ‘Health 2020’ will not be an easy task!

Finally, to sum up, Robert Taylor, Head of Commercial Solutions for the UK at Quintiles, kindly offered his thoughts of the event:-

“It was good to hear perspectives from across health policy and provision in a global context. I was particularly interested in the discussions around engaging with patients in actively managing their own health. From an industry perspective, we need to better harness data, and work more closely with our colleagues in the NHS, so that we can make medicines available to patients that deliver real outcomes in clinical and cost effectiveness terms.”

For more information from the day, view the Tweet stream here.

References

1. WHO European review of social determinants of health and the health divide. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(08)61345-8.

General reference

1. Economist Conferences: ‘The Global Healthcare Summit 2012’ – day two

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About the author:

Rebecca Aris is Managing Editor of pharmaphorum, the primary facilitator of thought leadership and innovation for the pharmaceutical industry featuring news, articles, events / company listings and online discussion.

Rebecca was the first full time employee to join pharmaphorum, starting in her current role in mid-2010, and is responsible for coordinating all editorial content on the site. Prior to working at pharmaphorum she was a medical writer at a healthcare PR agency. In addition, she spent three years working as a commissioning editor on three journal titles at a biomedical publishing company. Rebecca holds a BSc (Hons) in pharmaceutical science.

For queries she can be reached through the site contact form or via Twitter @Rebecca_Aris.

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