Friday, 31 August 2012

'From Little Things Big Things Grow'

('From Little Things Big Things Grow' title of this post inspired by the Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody song)

Given I have worked in education and change management for over 40 years, mostly in healthcare, it will not surprise you  that I believe that at the heart of all sustainable change is education.

My other passion is animal welfare. When contemplating recently how to advance the lot of non human animals – was it to be wildlife rescue, or neglected domestic animal rehabilitation – it soon became clear to me that, as necessary as these interventions are, the way to ensure that future generations develop attitudes and values that respect all inhabitants of this planet is through education. These newly acquired attitudes and values will then be passed down the generations, enhanced on their journey.

My dog, 'Mr Johnny Angel', off on a journey of his own. 

And so it is with healthcare.

Alfred Marshall was a turn of the century social scientist who is probably better known for his economic theories. Among other things Marshall wrote about ‘price elasticity of demand’ which describes how price increases lead to a fall in demand.

The extent to which demand is driven down varies depending on a number of factors but chief among these is the essential nature of the good or service in question. In healthcare demand is highly inelastic with a 1% increase in price leading to just a 0.2% drop in demand. One can reasonably speculate that this drop would be in elective healthcare. You are not going to cancel your life saving surgery just because it suddenly got more expensive (but you may decide not to have those wrinkles removed).

You and I have an almost insatiable demand for health care services. The cost of healthcare is high yet we continue to use it. In fact the demand for healthcare services vastly outstrips the supply – or at least the timely supply. So, whatever it costs, one way or another we will likely continue to use it. In fact, as medical science daily finds new ways to cure or alleviate illness the take up of health services increases.

World healthcare costs increase and our demand increases right along with it.

Here is where education comes in. If we as a literate population took the time to understand more about what happens to us as we age or sustain minor injuries we can make more informed decisions about the nature and level of care we need to alleviate health problems and global health cost would come down. But we need to be careful. I am not talking here about self diagnosis websites – although there are some that are useful – but rather a professional structured approach to educating populations about the who, where and when of healthcare interventions.

In time, animals will occupy a better place amongst us through our enhanced understanding of who they are. It is not too much to expect that education can also move global health standards forward. 

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