The term health care has many meanings. In general, it describes the services provided to maintain or restore human physical and mental well-being. This includes prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation. The term can also refer to the system of organizations and people that deliver these services. Lastly, the term can describe the larger healthcare landscape that encompasses all the products, services, and payment mechanisms associated with achieving and maintaining one’s health.
A major issue regarding healthcare is how to allocate resources. At the macro level, this question is about what priority a government should give to healthcare compared to other areas competing for funding, laws, and policies, such as defense, education, and commerce. At a more specific level, this question is about what a hospital should spend on various healthcare programs, building facilities, buying technology, outreach to the community, etc.
Another important issue regarding health care is what standards to use for evaluating the quality of the care delivered. For example, a hospital might choose to evaluate the quality of its care by comparing its performance with that of other hospitals in the region, or it might use national averages as a baseline. A more sophisticated approach might compare the performance of individual physicians or medical groups with that of their peers nationally.
The concept of fairness is also an important one in determining how to allocate healthcare resources. This is the idea that everyone should receive a sufficient amount of healthcare to bring them up to some standard of “normal.” However, it’s not clear what this standard should be. Some think that it should be based on the value of the person to society (e.g., how much they contribute, or how many lives they can save), while others think that it should be based on need, such as being born with a disease that makes them less healthy than the general population.
There are a variety of barriers that prevent people from accessing the healthcare they need. Sometimes this is a supply problem: for example, the availability of certain kinds of primary care doctors or advanced technologies may be limited. Other times it is a demand problem: for example, not all individuals have the financial means to pay for the kind of healthcare they need.
The last major issue regarding healthcare is that of efficiency. Some believe that healthcare should be allocated for maximum efficiency, with the goal of getting the best “bang for the buck.” This is often supported by the ethical theory of utilitarianism, which holds that the right action is one that brings about the most happiness for the greatest number. But there are other ways to measure efficiency, and other ethical theories that challenge the validity of this principle. Other ways to evaluate the quality of healthcare include adjusting for patient characteristics, using a mix of measures, or assessing how efficiently a physician uses available resources. All of these are complex questions, with no simple answers.