Low-quality healthcare services impact on global health costs

Low-quality healthcare services impact on global health costs

Low-quality healthcare services are holding back progress on improving health in countries at all income levels, according to a joint report by the OECD, World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank.

A mixture of inaccurate diagnoses, medication errors, inappropriate or unnecessary treatment, and unsafe clinical facilities or practices is an issue in healthcare services across the globe.

Low- and middle-income countries suffer most, where, despite acquired infections being easily avoided through better hygiene, improved infection control practices and appropriate use of antimicrobials, 10% of patients hospitalised can expect to acquire an infection during their stay, compared to 7% in high-income countries. Also, one in ten patients is harmed during medical treatment in high-income countries.

This is according to findings seen in the report ‘Delivering Quality Health Services – a Global Imperative for Universal Health Coverage’, which also highlights that sickness associated with poor-quality healthcare imposes additional spending for families and health systems.

What impact does low-quality healthcare have on the economy?

According to the report there has been some progress in improving the quality of healthcare, such as cancer and cardiovascular disease survival rates.

However, the economic and social costs of poor-quality care, including long-term disability, impairment and lost productivity, are estimated to amount to trillions of dollars each year.
OECD secretary general Ángel Gurría said: “Without quality health services, universal health coverage will remain an empty promise.

“The economic and social benefits are clear, and we need to see a much stronger focus on investing in and improving quality to create trust in health services and give everyone access to high-quality, people-centred health services.”

Ensuring good-quality healthcare services

WHO director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus commented: “At WHO we are committed to ensuring that people everywhere can obtain health services when and where they need them.

“We are equally committed to ensuring that those services are good quality. Quite honestly, there can be no universal health coverage without quality care.”

What else was found in the report?

  • Healthcare workers in seven low- and middle-income African countries were only able to make accurate diagnoses one third to three quarters of the time, and clinical guidelines for common conditions were followed less than 45% of the time on average;
  • Research in eight high-mortality countries in the Caribbean and Africa found that effective, quality maternal and child health services are far less prevalent than suggested by just looking at access to services. For example, just 28% of antenatal care, 26% of family planning services and 21% of sick-child care across these countries qualified as ‘effective’; and
  • Around 15% of hospital expenditure in high-income countries is due to mistakes in care or patients being infected while in hospitals.


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