Sunday, March 18, 2007

No cost, no consequence

Consumers are often berated by all and sundry for not taking personal responsibility for their own health. The assumption being that were consumers to be more responsible then they would choose to remain healthier and thus require lower levels of primary care.

There is a thread of logic in the above argument. Afterall, why would someone choose to be unhealthy rather than healthy? A question that is difficult to answer. The reality is that the population globally make choices daily that are likely to lead to reduced healthiness. For example, many choose to smoke cigarettes, consume chemical cocktails of drugs or drink excessive amounts of alcohol. Others elect to involve themselves in sporting activities that often lead to ongoing health issues, others choose to drive motor vehicles in a dangerous manner or without the use of safety equipment. Is it possible they continue to make these choices due to their being no consequence? Some would argue that the potential for losing a limb or being institutionalised in itself should be sufficient consequence, but it often isn't. Again the reality is that even with instances of extreme disability, at least within the developed world, one can continue to live a life. Therein lies the possible answer to the issue of accountability. As individuals we often have little concept of the actual cost of healthcare.

We understand that should an event occur that results in some form of incapacity then our options will become limited, however do we fully understand the costs of the system and the processes that are then utilised to enable us to enjoy even a limited level of life? More to the point, are we, as consumers, able to make an informed decision with regards to our health care?

Public education campaigns have proven to be successful at reducing the level of illness caused by smoking and motor vehicle accidents. While we may appear as a population to be gamblers by choice, our reaction to such advertising campaigns indicate that when presented with the right information we often can change our actions. It is possible that our lack of understanding of the true cost of poor health decisions lead us to believe the cost is low - maybe even to the point where we believe healthcare is effectively free! Could it be that a part of the strategy to help consumer take personal responsibility for their health lies with them having easy access to a greater level of information as to the real costs?