The covid-19 pandemic has brought health services and healthcare workers into sharp focus. It has also brought to the forefront the continued challenges the developed world faces to meet the increasing needs of an ageing population, and healthcare inequity that low-income countries face as they struggle to expand health coverage.
Health cooperatives are uniquely positioned to help countries achieve the Sustainable Development Goal 3, which aims to «ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages», and improving universal health coverage.
The cooperative identity, principles and values contribute to efficiently implement and provide healthcare services, which means making the right spending decisions, combine professionals’ skills and financial resources, and also improving working conditions for doctors, nurses or other health workers in this labour-intensive industry.
In this sense, health cooperatives respond to many interests. On the one hand, patients want to access the best healthcare without a financial burden that hardly can afford. To achieve this, they can either assemble together as a cooperative to buy services or, if they are a sufficient number of people, build medical facilities. However, as healthcare costs are high, they will sometimes also seek to share the risks, meaning that the health cooperative may carry out an insurance role.
On the other hand, health professionals can also try to meet their needs by creating a cooperative. It provides them with better quality jobs, supplies or services, and allows them to develop their profession based only in medical criteria, without shareholders pressuring for maximising their investment’s profitability.
Health cooperatives carry out their activity in different subsectors, as primary and specialised healthcare, management of hospitals and health facilities, health insurance, health promotion, prevention, health literacy or the provision of social services linked to health.
The business sector in which the cooperative operates is, on numerous occasions, a factor that conditions the type of members it has. For example, in medical care, it is common for the cooperative to be made up of doctors, who associate under this legal model to perform their profession in working and economic conditions that ensure their freedom of professional judgment. It also occurs in other professional groups linked to healthcare, such as caregivers or ambulance drivers.
The strength of health cooperatives becomes apparent when doctors, caregivers, administrative staff or educators can use their strong community connections to respond quickly in times of crises, as evidenced by the many initiatives and programs IHCO members launched over past months to prevent the spread of the coronavirus pandemic and relieve the related economic and social consequences.
Innovative solutions and the speed in which this type of responses can be implemented is made possible by the freedom doctors, and other health professionals have to make their own independent decisions, driven not by profit, but by their desire and commitment to serving their communities.
Even though new initiatives are becoming more frequent every day, The potential of health cooperatives is still far from being fully harnessed to meet the health needs of the population.