With a deep sense of responsibility and urgency as well as focus on the good of the patient, all stakeholders need to work together. With a deep sense of responsibility and urgency as well as focus on the good of the patient, all stakeholders need to work together.

The Role of the Private Sector in a New Healthcare Model

It is certainly no secret that Greece is in the middle of a deep financial crisis...
November 2009

By George Constantelis, as President & Managing Director of Bristol-Myers Squibb S.A.

Amidst the global financial crisis and its dire consequences, commentators often see the glass of the market economy system half empty. Since the above has proved its value over time, my suggestion is to look at the big picture and, at last, learn the lessons that it has taught us. Specifically for the healthcare sector, the current economic turmoil has underscored the importance of transparency and rationalization of expenses, given the limited resources and the aging population, but also the critical role of synergies between the state and the private sector, especially in the field of research and development.

The pharmaceutical sector – i.e. industry, wholesalers and pharmacies – is a critical stakeholder in every modern society. On the one hand, innovative drugs directly impact people’s physical wellness and overall productivity. In fact, it is largely due to access of such drugs that the life average of Greeks is on the high end of the European spectrum, with Greek women living close to 82 years of age – almost as long as Scandinavian ones – while, in the beginning of the 20th century, the respective average was only 55 years.

On the other hand, the contribution of the pharmaceutical sector to the national economy – though production, trade and employment – is unquestionable. In Greece, it employs 13,000 highly-educated and highly-skilled persons, while more than 600 pharmaceutical companies, 150 wholesalers and 10,000 pharmacies are based in our country.

However, there is still a lot to be done in order to improve the contribution of the pharmaceutical sector in a modern healthcare model. On the one hand, streamlining of expenses through the introduction of IT is no more an option but a necessity, as it has become apparent in other countries, too. For instance, the national Danish eHealth Portal – with the cooperation of two ministries, hospitals, and the industry – has been quite effective. In Greece, the industry association has repeatedly expressed its strong commitment to assist the Ministry of Health in moving ahead with this important reform in order to guarantee transparency of the whole range of healthcare spending and not just spending on pharmaceutical products. After all, the above spending is based on the highly-regulated pricing system that defines Greek prices at the average of the three lowest prices in Europe.

On the other hand, any modern state ought to provide motivations for research and development, in order to boost the growth of the economy, which is, after all, a common key target for all stakeholders. While the pharmaceutical industry re-invests almost 20% of its top line in R&D and spends more than $1,3billion to bring a compound to market, research is not a top strategic priority for the state, regrettably so. In fact, according to the latest Eurostat data, the R&D expenditure as a percentage of GDP in Greece is only 0,57 when the European average stands at 1,84, with countries, like Sweden and Finland, having a respective contribution of over 3,4% of GDP! It is, therefore, imperative that measures be introduced to encourage both domestic R&D and direct foreign investment in that field.

All in all, the global financial turmoil has revealed the weaknesses of the current market economy system, in general, but also the healthcare system, in specific. With a deep sense of responsibility and urgency as well as focus on the good of the patient, all stakeholders need to work together. Only then will the glass be have full…