Health care is the system of services for maintaining and improving human health. It includes diagnosis and treatment of diseases, illnesses and injuries, as well as community health interventions, such as vaccinations. It also includes the wider system of businesses and organizations involved in health care, such as hospitals, physician offices, labs, pharmacies, and insurers.
Health professionals, researchers and other experts from around the world are working to improve health care. They are studying what works and what doesn’t work, sharing information and best practices, and learning from the experiences of other countries. No nation has the perfect health care system, but by focusing on the needs of its people and what’s available globally, all can move closer to the ideal of a system that achieves optimal health for all at a price the country can afford.
The Cambridge Dictionary defines “healthcare” as the activity and business of providing medical and health services. It can also refer to the larger system or business that provides those services, but the more common use is in reference to medical services.
In the United States, most healthcare providers are private businesses and many consumers purchase health insurance through their workplaces at discounted rates. The federal government partially funds the program known as Medicare, which covers seniors and those with disabilities. The vast majority of healthcare in the United States is privately funded, with a small portion of it publicly funded and free to all citizens through the program known as Medicaid.
Most of the measures used to evaluate the quality of health care are process-oriented, examining things like hospitalizations and procedures. However, there is increasing recognition that other aspects of healthcare are just as important:
Access to care. This includes measures such as how far a patient must travel to get care and whether or not they can find the care they need. Affordability. This includes measuring how much the average person pays for health services compared to their income. Safety. This includes minimizing the risk of injury or illness to patients and caregivers.
Effectiveness. This measures how well a health care procedure or practice actually works and if it produces outcomes as supported by evidence. Efficiency. This measures a healthcare process’s ability to achieve the same results with less resource utilization (e.g., a lower number of tests or hospital stays per patient). Equity. This measures how well a health care system treats the entire population, including those who are poor or have limited resources.
As other countries have demonstrated, collective negotiation and standardized payment of healthcare services can lead to lower costs and simpler transactions, making the system more transparent for all parties and reducing errors, appeals and time spent on administrative duties. It can also help to eliminate the “sticker shock” of expensive medical bills. Vox has reported on the many ways that medical billing can be costly, opaque and unpredictable. These factors contribute to our high health care costs in the United States.