Is Health Economics a Good Career?

The present era is a highly competitive era where society is exceptionally aware of career options. There is a lot of information available on the internet. There are career coaches/counselors who guide the students to choose the right path and social media helps the students to connect well with their peers. Sometimes, it gets difficult to decide right when a lot of information is available and often leave the students confused. Choosing the right career involves the real understanding of course modules, their utility and their application to society. The choice of selected course should convert into a useful profession that helps the nation. Students with bachelor’s degrees in behavioral and social sciences (Sociology, Psychology, Counseling) or biomedical sciences can opt for an extremely useful programme called “Masters in Health Economics”. As the name describes, it is the study of the economics of the healthcare sector. 

Economics is a branch of science that handles the after effects of the situations where the resources are inadequate whereas health economics communicates the problems associated with the efficiency, effectiveness, value and behavior of the healthcare system and deals with the adequate delivery of the healthcare services.

Many researchers have evidenced the availability of resources which has been granted to the healthcare industry but unfortunately, it has not been accounted for well. It is very important to account for the value of the reserves that in-house the healthcare system. The main reason behind the unaccountability of resources is their undisclosed prices. The third parties (insurance companies) often fail to follow the norms of economics and hide the costs.

Health economists are responsible for tracing out the expenses incurred by the patients. There is a lacuna in the information which is available to the patients regarding their health expenditures, so the physicians make use of this situation while delivering healthcare services by charging more.  This lack of information is known as asymmetric information.

The Allan Williams Plumbing diagram clearly shows the eight major aspects of health economics (A to G)

Health economics

Fig 1 – Picture adapted from  Williams, A. (1987)

In recent times, healthcare is one of the most alluring fields across the world. It not only generates high revenue but has been creating multiple jobs too. Several components of the healthcare system are:

  • Hospitals
  • Medical equipment
  • Clinical trials
  • Redistribution
  • Telehealth
  • Medical touristry
  • Health Insurance

The healthcare sector is branched into public and private. The public healthcare centers are governed by the Government and offer elementary support whereas the private healthcare system is superior and provides comprehensive support. Among Asian and Western countries, India has the most flourishing pool of medical professionals and the treatment costs are moderate as well. 

Contribution of  Health Economics to Rule out the Shortcomings of Healthcare Industry

Health Technology Assessment (HTA) precisely measures the economics of the healthcare system. HTA not only covers the economic element but also takes care of the medical, social and ethical aspects related to healthcare. It evaluates the utility and effectiveness of clinical trials, safe scientific environment and financial benefits. HTA devises the clinical recommendations and regulations so that enlightened choices can be made to design certain policies. Such progressive and pocket-friendly techniques will help in the proportionate allotment of funds. This branch was developed in the U.S. Office of Technology Assessment where the first communication was made in 1976. Soon after its development in the US, it started widening in other countries like the UK, Canada and Italy. Countries with profitable economies like the UK, Australia and Canada preferred to follow HTA more appropriately than countries like Thailand, Brazil and Mexico. Wealthier countries have been associating with low-income countries so that every patient irrespective of financial status has the opportunity to get premium health services at nominal prices. This collaboration between rich and poor countries was instituted by BeNeLuxA (Austria, Belgium, Ireland, Luxembourg, and The Netherlands; beneluxa.org). The International Decision Support Initiative (iDSI) is another agency to aid poor countries through health policies and competitive economic advice on effective health expenditure

Though HTA has received great acceptance worldwide, in sub-Saharan Africa, the exposure to the HTA policies is still scanty. A formal course imparting guidance on HTA policies is the need of the hour. Developing countries like India and China are setting up national institutes to impart education on health economics. India lacks most of the economic policies related to health like central recompensation processes, threshold payments, consensus statements, Moreover, the delivery of medical services is not distributed proportionally and there is a dearth of pharmacoeconomic estimations in India. The amount of work done in this area is scanty in India and the researchers working on this subject usually collaborate with international scientific workers.  

Importance of Health Economics as a Career Choice for Graduates

It is now clear that a systematic programme is highly desirable to bring health economics into practice at a broader level. To successfully run these programs approval from Government agencies are required so that certain policies can be brought into action. Some policies are already approved including “pharmacoeconomics” in the Drug Price Control Order, 2013. No other industry in India requires qualified economists as much as the healthcare industry requires it. Therefore, training at the college level would help the job seekers to work in the healthcare industry and researchers to evaluate all the possible dimensions that will benefit society. 

The James Lind Institute MPH in Health Economics and Policy Programme offers specialization in Health Economics and Policy after completion of all credit requirements for the award of the Master of Public Health (MPH) degree. The duration of this specialization is usually 36 weeks. There will be four compulsory courses and three electives. This course not only offers fundamental expertise but also deal with other significant concerns e.g. 

  • How the allotment of medical professionals  viz., doctors and nurses will be done in a sizable healthcare segment
  • How to get the funding for research-based activities
  • Establishing health care centres for public
  • How to deal with skyrocketing healthcare prices worldwide
  • How to better groom and train the healthcare professionals
  • How to deal with the ever-increasing demand for healthcare services
  • How to evaluate the economical framework made for end-users, investing agencies, private and government corporations
  • Imparting education on microeconomic and macroeconomic models
  • Developing the skills to examine the research data and making new economic policies based on previous shortcomings

The economists have the advantage to add value in many sectors and since the healthcare industry is growing expediently, thus providing ample opportunities for applied economics students 

The jobs for health economists are available in hospitals, academics (colleges and universities), health insurance sectors, pharmaceutical companies, the government sector (national and international), consultancy agencies and public health centres.

A few of the current opportunities that are available  for health economists are given below for reference

  1. Programming Director – Medical and Market Access (Glaxo Smithkline), India
  2. Analyst – Novartis Healthcare, India
  3. Associate Consultant – Market Access Transformation, India
  4. Manager – Grant Management (IPE Global Ltd.), India
  5. Executive Government Affairs and Market Access (B.Braun), India
  6. Assistant Manager Research (E&Y), India
  7. Health Economics and Market Access Manager, Pfizer, Helsinki, Finland
  8. Health Economics and Payer Evidence Lead CVRM, AstraZeneca, Sweden
  9. RWE (Health Economics and Outcomes Research) Analyst, IQVIA, Madrid, Spain
  10. Research Associate Health Economics and Outcomes Research, CPL, London, UK
  11. Principal Health Economics Modeler – Evidera, London, UK
  12. Health Economist – Office of Health Economics, London, UK
  13. Research Fellow- Health Economics, Utimo, New South Wales, Australia