Delegates preview research into the state of health co-ops

Amazon and Google could disrupt the health market, but co-ops must focus on the people to ensure they can afford services

An ageing population and tighter state budgets are putting pressure on health services – making the role of health co-ops more important, a conference session was told.

The session at the International Co-operative Alliance’s global conference outlined research by the International Health Co-operative Organisation (IHCO) and the European Research Institute on Cooperative and Social Enterprises (EURICSE) into 15 health co-ops, which is due for in December.

The project examines both members and users of health co-operatives and analyses the way in which these organisations operate in and contribute to the welfare system of their country. The research includes both quantitative and qualitative analysis on health co-operatives and the systems in which they operate.

Gianluca Salvatore, chief executive of EURICSE, said technology will bring major change to health services. He highlighted Chinese diagnostic app Ping A Good Doctor as an example of how consumers are replacing traditional services with digital ones.

“In the not too distant future, consumers can access discrete health services from a range of providers,” he said, predicting intensified competition as players like Amazon and Google disrupt the sector.

And he warned this would bring “social polarisation – between a minority who can afford such services and the majority who will be in difficulty. The co-op model must focus on the people who will find it problematic to approach this new healthcare system.”

The survey of co-ops produced four key findings, he added: health co-ops are widespread in all studied countries; can adjust to changing conditions; are on the rise; and have competitive advantages.

But their potential is “heavily underestimated” by policymakers, he warned.

The research focuses on:

  • Physician and general practitioner co-operatives providing services related to treatment, cure, and/or rehabilitation
  • Co-operatives operating healthcare facilities, hospitals, clinics, etc.
  • Other co-operatives providing health care and health-related social services
  • Co-operatives working on illness prevention, health promotion and/or health literacy
  • Co-operatives in the field of pharmaceutical distribution and retailing
  • Co-operatives or mutuals offering health plans or insurance policies covering some or all of these services.
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