Clinicians, Health Economics and COVID-19

health economics and covid-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has put health care systems under unprecedented pressure. It’s been described as “the worst challenge for a century for international health and financial systems”. Decisions have had to be made at pace about how to respond; from deciding on lockdowns through to what routine care should be paused whilst caring for those with COVID-19, and as vaccines and treatments have been approved, which of these to use and what to pay for them. These are political, clinical and health economic decisions. These are also inevitably hard decisions to make too.

Short-term decisions

As COVID-19 emerged early in 2020 as a public health threat, decisions had to be made about how best to prepare health care systems. At the national level this has included rapid deployment of resources to set up temporary hospitals as showcased by the Nightingale hospitals in England that have repurposed conference centres. Other countries have also set up field hospitals and in some cases even built new hospitals. Then there has been staffing these facilities, with some clinicians shifting from their regular work to support their colleagues in intensive care, as well as the recruitment of staff to track and trace.

This is health economics in action; it’s a rapid change to the deployment of available resources as well as drawing in new money too. There have been many trade-off decisions to make – just which change will deliver the most and what can be sacrificed that minimises the damage – and this is exactly how health economics can help.

When time is limited – as has been the case with COVID-19 – clinicians are playing an important role not only in their delivery of care in response to the pandemic, but many are also faced with the challenge of how to change care delivery in their hospitals, clinics and wards as well as caring for those in the community. Clinicians who are knowledgeable about health economics can help grapple with these challenges; helping to see the clinical and the health economics at play and trying to make the most of a bad situation. This is what we hear from our clinician students who have, and are currently, studying applied health economics at Learna Ltd in partnership with the University of South Wales.

Long-term decisions

The fall-out from COVID-19 will be felt in health care systems for years to come. Decisions need to be made about just how much investment should be put into pandemic preparedness, resources to manage long COVID, and resources to help ‘catch-up’ in meeting the health needs of those patients who have had their care delayed, or most worryingly, have not sought care at all and may suffer from more severe ill health as a consequence. As money becomes tighter – there is not an endless pot to pay for the consequences of COVID-19 and countries are facing recessions – clinicians may well be under yet more pressure to identify where to make savings.

These decisions will likely be made in every country and the wise decision-makers will want to draw on a multitude of experts to help. Clinicians skilled in health economics will be well placed to not only inform, but perhaps to lead some of the decision-making processes. They’ll be able to understand the business cases, budget impact analyses and cost-effectiveness assessments that many countries will be using to inform their choices. That can enable them to make a clinical and health economic contribution to aid better decision making, be that decisions about the best choices for investment in care through to where savings can be made.

If anything, COVID-19 has put a spotlight on why clinicians need to know about health economics, a view that has been expressed for some time.

Our Applied Health Economics Programmes

A Postgraduate Diploma or MSc in Applied Health Economics is the perfect and practical resource to prepare you to build health economic knowledge and develop health economics skills that you can apply in your work, whatever country you are based in. Our programmes address topics such as economic evaluation and budget impact assessments, tools that will likely be widely used to inform future decisions about care. Prepare yourself as we navigate our way through the COVID-19 pandemic by applying for a Postgraduate Diploma or MSc.