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The future of health care


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World Health • 47th Year, No. 5, September-october 1994 3


The future of health care

John H. Bryant


n attempt to focus on the future of health care forces us to acknowledge the widespread changes now under way that will multiply as we move into the future.

These will not be simple trends with modest impact. A maelstrom of change is building up, global in scope, extending across all sectors.

Seven major streams of change can be seen.

Democratization. History is unfolding towards increasing democratization of societies.

While there will be many social, political and economic

expressions of this trend, the implications for the health sector will be large in terms of how decisions are made - between patients and their doctors;

communities and health services;

and managers and policy-makers.

Democratization, decentrali- zation, and empowerment will be pervasive.

Equity. If there is one word that defines the values that will underlie the future of health care, it is equity. Two key concepts . must be kept in view: universal coverage and care according to need. They require defining a population, assessing its needs, and ensuring that all receive care according to need, in keeping with available resources.

Ethics. Interest in ethics in relation to health care is rapidly expanding, appearing in virtually every comer of the education of health personnel, research involving human subjects, and the care of patients and communities, and increasingly guiding policies.

Science and technology. Health care finds its roots in science, and much of its growth in technology.

The challenge is to use both well for the benefit of all who are in need.

Health care reform is global in its spread, and entails more than fine-tuning of health systems-it is integral to larger social and political transformations. Health care systems cannot avoid reform, but neither can they be reformed independently of other societal movements.

Hospitals. Are they part of the answer or part of the problem?

Possibly both. Either way, the hospital of tomorrow will have to be closely integrated with the larger health care system, supportive of community-based services with both outreach and referral, linked into collaborative networks of regional sharing of information and resources, with balanced responsiveness to both technological advances and social need.

Roles and education of health personnel. Health workers are inevitably at the centre of change of the health sector. Will they lead those changes, or impede them?

The universities will play important roles in answering that question. The key lies largely in the perspective of the university on its role in society - cloistered behind its academic walls, or grappling with societal problems?

We face large unanswered questions about health care for the future.

Given the enlarging capacities of science, technology, information

John H. Bryant, M.D., Emeritus Professor, Ago Khan University, Korochi, Pakistan.

systems and health care, will we be able to bridge over the inequities that afflict the global society? Or will these exciting advances simply add to the list of unshared gains? I have a clear and undiluted view on that question:

The sweep of change towards democratization and equity is too strong and too pervasive to allow technologies to remain unapplied to the needs of the underserved. There will be uncertainties and failures along the road, to be sure, but the direction and urgency of movement will be towards responding to these needs on a global scale. •


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