Is profit a bad word in healthcare?

I have been involved in the healthcare industry for over 15 years and I’ve worked as a doctor in hospitals, I have worked in medical research for biotech industry, I have worked marketing healthcare products and business strategy in the pharmaceutical industry and I have enjoyed leading my business in holistic health and wellness.

In all my endeavours in healthcare, money was a part of the healthcare paradigm. In the hospitals and practices in the UK and Australia that I worked in, doctors, nurses and allied health professionals didn’t really think about charging patients as healthcare was essentially free. The government essentially paid everyone’s salaries.

Even then we had the occasional patients complain that service was poor!!

And what’s even more interesting, was that nurses were going on strike because they needed better pay and doctors were also about to go on strike.

Ironically, when I left the National Health Service in the UK to leave such disillusionment, the problem was exactly the same – nurses were going on strike because of poor pay and doctors were about to go on strike!

When I was in the biotech and pharmaceutical industries, there were no strikes! Essentially, there was medical research performed and a lot of it was commercialised. The reality was that the product (medical drug) in this case would need to serve a need in the market, but would also have to somehow generate revenue for the company.

There was a constant balance of managing the needs of patients who need the drug and setting a price that governments could pay for it, in order to reach the broadest amount of people.

The company on the other hand had to serve its shareholders and make a profit – something many companies did well, but many also struggled with.  This was the development of a drug is very risky business – you could spend over $1billion dollars developing a drug (the average cost these days), only to find weeks after hitting the market that it had to be withdrawn for some unforeseen side-effect.

In my humble opinion, while these companies were commercially driven, there was a line that we would not cross and integrity in how we did our science was paramount. However, this is a topic that is widely debated in modern society. Very often, people struggle to rationalise the concept that healthcare is somehow a business and that finances are involved in delivering healthcare.

This challenge is perpetuated in the field of complementary and alternative health, which I am now involved in. Here we charge patients (who are now called clients instead) and it is interesting to observe the dynamic how many people are quite happy to pay several hundred dollars for a flatscreen TV but will not pay it to solve an emotional issue that they have had since childhood.

It speaks to how much we value our own health these days.

I am a firm believer that in order to be a sustainable organisation long-term, you need good discipline in business and you need to be able to make money, or show a profit. Even a non-for-profit should be able to generate a profit, as long as it is reinvested into the organisation.

This is clearly a challenge in the mindset of many people in healthcare.

However, what do you think – is profit a ‘bad word’ in healthcare?