Elizabeth Bailey, Director, Consortium for Affordable Medical Technologies (CAMTech) and Vikram Damodaran, Chief Product Officer, GE Sustainable Healthcare Solutions, make the case for global primary care.
More than 5 billion people globally are unable to access quality healthcare. Sometimes the barriers are obvious – a shortage of trained clinicians, inadequate infrastructure or the inability to pay for services. Other times, however, the impediments are less evident in marginalized communities, and are caused by a lack of education or awareness about basic health.
From our work in emerging markets, we believe one discipline unites these dimensions to bridge the gap between the patient and effective and equitable healthcare services: primary care.
The front line of clinical care – that first touchpoint for patient and clinician where a strong foundation of care is built for communities and individuals – so often becomes a missed opportunity. It’s what we’re calling the critical “First Mile” of care.
In emerging markets, an under-developed healthcare system can take many shapes:
- A local primary care system lacking physical resources and infrastructure;
- A secondary care system that cannot meet the overwhelming demand or deliver the quality of care required for more complicated patients;
- The tertiary, specialized system, overloaded by patients navigating their own care pathways, and circumventing the other two, more local, channels.
From all these pressures and despite strong efforts, many healthcare systems struggle to treat their communities equitably and efficiently, and as a result, health outcomes decline.
The “First Mile” of care can establish a primary healthcare ecosystem for most individuals to create a better pathway, particularly in rural areas. How will enabling primary care in emerging countries help drive positive outcomes for these communities? Among the long list of ways to tackle global health challenges, why should we focus on primary care first ?
Here are our top five reasons:
- Build trust: All patients need accountable healthcare systems they can rely on. If we equip primary care systems with appropriate technologies and the right infrastructure, and build dynamic and responsive patient education and outreach programs, we knit the fundamental fabric of trust that communities need to thrive.
- Create a strong first line of defense: Whether from the globalization of illness or the rising burden of chronic disease, improved healthcare delivery through primary care will increase the amount of patients who seek and access healthcare. Earlier screening and diagnosis, and more timely treatment of disease will directly and positively impact health outcomes.
- Reduce the overall cost of care: By catching the onset of illness early, we can improve disease management and reduce the need for complicated interventions – ultimately decreasing the economic impact of healthcare for patients, providers, and communities.
- Generate bandwidth: An efficient primary care system enables health workers at all levels to work at the top of their license. One of the biggest constraints we face is the availability of healthcare resources to manage high volumes of patients. From community health workers to expert clinicians, the right support systems can enable our limited human resources to optimize their productivity without sacrificing quality.
- Put the patient at the center of healthcare: Healthcare today is viewed as a service to be delivered at the last mile. We believe this misguidedly puts the delivery system – a hospital, community health center or a clinic – as the node of focus. By orienting ourselves to the challenges in primary care, we put the patient back in the center of our work. A well-oiled, patient-centered primary healthcare system becomes the vehicle to communicate, educate, engage and treat 5 billion more people around the world.
The First Mile Challenge:
Are you passionate about global primary care? Have you witnessed recurrent barriers to care in low-and middle-income countries (LMICs)? CAMTech and GE Sustainable Healthcare Solutions are calling on all clinicians and innovators to identify and submit critical healthcare challenges in primary care through a First Mile Discovery Challenge. We need your experience, expertise and ideas to target key challenges in primary health care (‘the first mile’) with a focus on maternal and child health, cardiovascular screening/health and safe surgery. Calls for submissions are due September 1st, 2016 via the CAMTech Innovation Platform. Click here to learn more!