The cost of medical progress

In the first chapter of their book, The Digital Pill: What Everyone Should Know about the Future of Our Healthcare System, the authors Prof. Dr. Elgar Fleisch, Christoph Franz, and Prof. Dr. Andreas Herrmann look at the personal and economic costs of modern medical treatments.

The authors start off with a history lesson, focusing on the 20th century that saw medical innovations fight infectious diseases around the world. The generations of our parents and grandparents witnessed how people started to live longer and better lives. The age of antibiotics and vaccines led to some diseases such as smallpox disappearing completely. On average, across the world, a person will now live to 72 years. Better medical treatments also made it possible to treat illnesses with no previous cure, such as cancers and cardiovascular diseases. The flip-side of the coin however is that people are now living longer with these diseases. We have to therefore ask ourselves what this means for individual patients and their families…

Besides the personal costs, medical advancements and longevity have also led to a substantial increase in healthcare costs. These costs of course need to be covered and unfortunately, in many countries, it is not uncommon for medical debt to lead to bankruptcy. In the USA, medical treatments are very advanced but unfortunately remain unaffordable for wide parts of society. In countries with privatised healthcare, the insurance costs tend to rise substantially for elderly patients. This is a real ethical dilemma. How do we feel about a two-tier healthcare system depending on wealth and ability?

The authors highlight some of the biggest challenges faced by healthcare systems today. As more and better treatments become available, healthcare costs go up and coverage becomes more challenging. This can lead to some treatments not being available for parts of society. However, the authors end on a positive note by reviewing the efforts of several countries to widen access to healthcare for the poor.

Would you like to learn more about the topic of healthcare? The English version of the book, “The Digital Pill: What Everyone Should Know about the Future of Our Healthcare System (see reference below) has now been published.

Fleisch, E., Franz, C. and Herrmann, A. (2021). The Digital Pill: What Everyone Should Know about the Future of Our Healthcare System, Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley (UK). ISBN: 978-1-78756-676-7. 10.1108/978-1-78756-675-020211015

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