Objectives, methods, and results in critical health systems and policy research: evaluating the healthcare market

Jean-Pierre Unger, Ingrid Morales, Pierre De Paepe

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    BackgroundSince the 1980s, markets have turned increasingly to intangible goods - healthcare, education, the arts, and justice. Over 40years, the authors investigated healthcare commoditisation to produce policy knowledge relevant to patients, physicians, health professionals, and taxpayers. This paper revisits their objectives, methods, and results to enlighten healthcare policy design and research.Main textThis paper meta-analyses the authors' research that evaluated the markets impact on healthcare and professional culture and investigated how they influenced patients' timely access to quality care and physicians' working conditions. Based on these findings, they explored the political economic of healthcare.In low-income countries the analysed research showed that, through loans and cooperation, multilateral agencies restricted the function of public services to disease control, with subsequent catastrophic reductions in access to care, health de-medicalisation, increased avoidable mortality, and failure to attain the narrow MDGs in Africa.The pro-market reforms enacted in middle-income countries entailed the purchaser-provider split, privatisation of healthcare pre-financing, and government contracting of health finance management to private insurance companies. To establish the materiality of a cause-and-effect relationship, the authors compared the efficiency of Latin American national health systems according to whether or not they were pro-market and complied with international policy standards.While pro-market health economists acknowledge that no market can offer equitable access to healthcare without effective regulation and control, the authors showed that both regulation and control were severely constrained in Asia by governance and medical secrecy issues.In high-income countries they questioned the interest for population health of healthcare insurance companies, whilst comparing access to care and health expenditures in the European Union vs. the U.S., the Netherlands, and Switzerland. They demonstrated that commoditising healthcare increases mortality and suffering amenable to care considerably and carries professional, cultural, and ethical risks for doctors and health professionals. Pro-market policies systems cause health systems inefficiency, inequity in access to care and strain professionals' ethics.ConclusionPolicy research methodologies benefit from being inductive, as health services and systems evaluations, and population health studies are prerequisites to challenge official discourse and to explore the historical, economic, sociocultural, and political determinants of public policies.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number1072
    JournalBMC Health Services Research
    Number of pages13
    Publication statusPublished - 2020


    • Health policy
    • Health systems research
    • Research methodology
    • ACCESS
    • WORLD


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