April 15, 2016

Where is the trade-off?

The fallacy of the equity-efficiency trade off: rethinking the efficient health system

What goes first? An equitable health system or an efficient one?. You'll see in some textbooks this biased trade-off formulation.
 A more appropriate question would be, “what is more important for a population, a health system that delivers equitable (fairly distributed) health outcomes or a health  system that maximises health gains?” The difference between the meaningless first question (which does not contrast outcomes) and the potentially meaningful second question (which does contrast outcomes) is critical.
 On a continuum of health gains and equity, possible goals of a health system include:
✯ Achieving the greatest health gains for a given input without regard to whether this means concentrating the gains in one (social) group: a traditional health outcomes focus,
✯ Achieving the fairest distribution of health for a given input without regard to the actual level of health achieved: a non-traditional outcome focus on (one form of) health equity, and
✯ Achieving an appropriate balance between the greatest health gains for a given input subject to the constraint of fairly distributing the health gains across social groups: an outcome balancing health equity and health gains
If finally there is a prioritisation on waiting lists, we would focus on the third option. Unfortunately I wrote a post 5 years ago on the same topic...and still waiting for its application.

PS. The trade off started with A. Okun 40 years ago, from a macroeconomics perspective. Have a look at the anniversary at Brookings.

PS. "Public health refers to all organized measures (whether public or private) to prevent disease, promote health, and prolong life among the population as a whole. Its activities aim to provide conditions in which people can be healthy and focus on entire populations, not on individual patients or diseases. Thus, public health is concerned with the total system and not only the eradication of a particular disease." WHO dixit. Can you imagine asking citizens about a Public Health Survey?. The term doesn't make any sense. All over the world the common term is Health Survey if you want to ask people about their health perception, except in Catalonia. So weird, somebody should check it, maybe it's a mistake.