Until the next International Self-Care Day

An annual opportunity to put a spotlight on the benefits of self-care.

The untapped value of self-care: how we can achieve a better healthcare future for all

Self-care is a valuable part of our healthcare infrastructure, which brings about significant benefits

he first study of its kind
At the Global Self-Care Federation (GSCF), we recently completed and published a research study on the value self-care brings within the global healthcare system. Titled the Global Social and Economic Value of Self-Care, it is a landmark study. It is the first global research project that analyses the worldwide value of self-care and is the first study to include data from low and middle-income countries (LMICs), giving it a truly global perspective.

When we talk about self-care, we’re referring to the practice of individuals looking after their own health using the knowledge and information available to them. It is a decision-making process that empowers individuals to manage their health efficiently and conveniently, in collaboration with health and social care professionals as needed.

We identified two main approaches to self-care:

  • Self-care as the first treatment option refers to the practice of self-care as opposed to visiting a primary care physician, which is typically more prevalent in developed economies.
  • Self-care only as the only treatment option is the practice of self-care instead of doing nothing, when it is the only available option, which is more prevalent in low-income countries.

We know that deeper integration of self-care into a healthcare system creates tangible benefits, bringing about both financial and time savings for physicians and individuals. The specific benefits vary according to each country’s health system and socio-economic context, but the value is realised universally.

Benefits now and for the future
In the current healthcare paradigm, self-care is not perceived as an essential pillar of a comprehensive healthcare system. Accordingly, we see a lack of targeted policy measures that incentivise (at the individual or collective level) proactively managing your own health and avoiding unnecessary physician visits when dealing with minor ailments.

Self-care brings about enormous benefits to our current system, and this is backed up by our analysis of the value of gains in overall productivity, welfare, and quality of life.

Currently, self-care practices bring savings of nearly $120bn (£100bn) each year for global healthcare systems and savings of 40.8bn productive days for both health practitioners and patients. This translates to an average of 11.83 work days per person per year, corresponding to a value of $1,879bn (£1,569bn) in welfare effects.

Quality of life is also improved and can be measured in terms of quality-adjusted life years (QALYs), a globally recognised instrument for measuring the value of health outcomes. We estimate self-care integration to bring a gain of approximately 22m QALYs worldwide.

The future potential of self-care is, of course, influenced by changes in economic welfare and demographics. The evidence indicates that the value of self-care in the future can be significantly shaped through self-care policy measures, increasing the value of self-care effects by approximately 16% to 25%.

 Yearly savings through self-care
 Yearly savings through self-care

The results clearly demonstrate that self-care delivers both social and economic benefits on a global scale, regardless of the specific health system or demographic status. There is also great potential for increased benefits to be delivered to individuals and health systems with an increased uptake of self-care.

Realising the gains through collective action
We need to recognise self-care as a multifaceted concept, encompassing a wide variety of health-related practices. It’s clear that there is a need for greater acknowledgement of the elements of self-care and the benefits it brings, from all stakeholders in the healthcare process. Collective action is required from all sides to ensure that self-care is a key driver towards achieving UHC.

We express our findings for the value of self-care in a variety of formats: savings in monetary cost, physician time, or individuals’ time, as well as gains in welfare, productivity, and quality of life. But no matter which data point you look at, the result is clear – self-care is a valuable part of our healthcare infrastructure, brings about significant benefits, has the potential for even more.

The pillars of the social value of self-care.
The pillars of the social value of self-care.

As an industry, if we wish to achieve the projected values discussed in this report, we need coherent healthcare policy and regulation supporting self-care, as well as further integration of self-care into the healthcare system. It can no longer be considered as an aside – it must be included as a foundational pillar.

That’s why we call on health and finance ministries to jointly develop and implement cohesive self-care policies aimed at empowering individuals to take charge of their own health.

Healthcare literacy has the capacity to be a fundamental catalyst for this change as we move forward. It enables individuals to take an empowered stance on their own health. Giving people the ability to understand and act upon credible health information is a crucial step in the process. If we aim to achieve our UHC objectives and bring our healthcare system into the future, self-care must be considered a key building block for growth – and healthcare literacy a foundation upon which to build.

Achieving self-care integration will not be accomplished by only one set of stakeholders. It will take all of us – policymakers, regulators, industry actors, international activists, to bring about cohesive and fundamental change. We must work together to achieve a better healthcare future for all.

by Judy Stenmark

Director General of The Global Self-Care Federation