OECD highlights digital health as key to enhancing healthcare system performance
The latest Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report throws light on the financial strains faced by health systems in member countries, driven by the allocation competition for public funds. The report, ‘OECD Health at a Glance 2023‘, unveils that healthcare expenditure in OECD nations represented 9.2% of GDP in 2022, a slight reduction from 9.7% in the previous year. This figure, though higher than pre-pandemic levels, saw a decline in 11 countries compared to 2019.
On average, health spending per person in OECD countries approached USD 5,000 in 2022, with the United States, Switzerland, and Germany leading the expenditure chart. In contrast, Mexico, Colombia, and Costa Rica marked the lower end of the spectrum. OECD Secretary-General Mathias Cormann highlighted the urgent need for health systems to provide more timely and cost-effective healthcare, especially in light of ageing populations and the residual impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental and physical well-being.
Cormann emphasised that digitising healthcare systems and embracing digital health technologies is crucial to enhance system efficiency and effectiveness, underscoring the economic and social necessity of accessible high-quality healthcare.
The ‘Health at a Glance 2023’ report focuses particularly on the role of digital health in revolutionising health systems, a process catalysed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite progress, there remains significant work to be done in digital health governance, as outlined by a policy checklist in the report.
Current health indicators reflect a society still grappling with the pandemic’s aftermath, with a general decline in life expectancy and ongoing mental and physical health challenges. The health and social care workforce is expanding, yet staffing shortages and deteriorating work conditions are raising concerns. Salary erosion due to inflation is another challenge, with several OECD countries witnessing stagnant or falling real wages in the healthcare sector over the past decade.
Cardiovascular diseases remain a leading cause of mortality, and nearly one-third of deaths could have been prevented with better healthcare interventions. Despite the widespread adoption of universal health coverage, financial barriers continue to make healthcare inaccessible for low-income groups, with the poorest often foregoing necessary care.
The pandemic has exacerbated waiting times for elective surgeries like hip and knee replacements, and while there has been some improvement, wait times are still generally above pre-pandemic levels. However, there have been gains in the quality of care, particularly in terms of safety and effectiveness, and a move towards more patient-centred healthcare is evident with safer prescribing practices in primary care.