Normally, the population associates the health care system with the provision of medical care and health care for patients. Stereotypically, this image includes excessively high costs and the need to curb them. Completely disregarded is the fact that the health care system is not only a cost factor but also a growth industry.
Its economic importance is impressively demonstrated by its contribution to employment, value-added and exports. 16.9% of the labor market, 11.9% of gross value added and 7.3% of exports in the overall economy in 2017 are already impressive figures that other industries do not have.
The German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy regularly publishes facts and figures on the core and extended sectors of the healthcare industry and the associated collectively and individually financed healthcare services. These reliable data are available not only nationally but also at the regional level down to the individual county. For example, it can be seen that the health economy in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and in Schleswig-Holstein makes a particular contribution to regional employment and gross value added, while in southern Germany the industrial locations of the health economy are in the foreground.
The economic importance of health care is also reinforced by the fact that healthy aging increases the productivity of the population and triggers a growing demand for services and goods. It can be seen that healthcare is not only a cost factor, but also an economic sector that makes a stable long-term contribution to the national product and, above all, to employment, alongside tourism, the education sector, the energy industry, and the automotive industry. The described economic footprint is further strengthened by the fact that this economic sector stabilizes the national economic power due to the low input ratio. Finally, it can be shown that the industry grows one percent faster over time than the German economy as a whole.
Despite the regular and systematic statistical coverage of the health economy by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy and the economic research institute WifOR, there are additional aspects that require further investigation. For example, the question arises as to whether savings are also generated by a healthier society. However, there are hardly any reliable calculations on this assumption. There is a lack of meaningful medical results. This requires calculations for specific disease patterns, for different population groups and, if possible, differentiated by region. A frequent question, therefore, relates to the health benefit, somewhat superficially also referred to as the "health dividend" of the health care system. In Germany, we have taken a major step forward with institutionalized benefit measurement through the German Medicines Market Reorganization Act (GMMRA) and the associated Institutes for Quality Assurance, Efficiency and Evaluation of Medical Interventions. Nevertheless, there are increasing complaints about the associated increase in bureaucracy in self-administration and thus in the healthcare system. Increasing transparency seems to be increasing bureaucratization even more. It is actually a pity that competition hardly plays a role in this context.
The health insurance funds mainly manage themselves, and the Social Code (SGB V) does not allow them to organize health care in an entrepreneurial way. The health benefits of the health economy are not equally apparent as is the case with calculations of value-added, employment and exports based on standardized national accounts. On the way to more transparency, comprehensibility and an evaluation of the benefits of the health care industry, attention should therefore be drawn to only a few selected and easily comprehensible ways as examples.
New tasks include suitability for everyday life and the elderly as a care goal that is gaining in importance. The health economy includes medical devices and prosthetics, combined with sports and fitness equipment, weight and blood pressure measurement, home emergency call systems and the measurement of irregular body states (digital health). In these more medical-technical areas, given their economic benefits here and there, they can even be expected to be self-financing.
Another path is more strongly oriented toward individual physical functioning in the field of ophthalmology, using the example of extremely successful cataract operations. The healthcare industry contributes a great deal to a better quality of life in this area. Accidents in the home, in sports or in traffic, completely different segments, can also be isolated in the context of the health economy and analyzed in terms of their health benefits. Often overlooked is the fact that these small-seeming sectors include a huge number of medium-sized companies that have turned healthcare into an industry. More than 45 million people wearing spectacles and more than 800,000 cataract operations also have to be managed in a technical sense, even if the focus is on vision, hearing or mobility for the individual.
Assisted living and age-appropriate assistive technologies also contribute to better health or everyday fitness in the familiar and neighborhood environment. Accessible health is not just a buzzword but a prerequisite for open access to healthcare services. In the case of chronic illnesses, the focus is on new technologies that are often initially paid for individually before they come into widespread use as standard services. In the case of interventions that can be scheduled, special clinics with their particularly sophisticated medical equipment play a special role. Last but not least, reference should be made to medical services and aids, medications and the rapid medical-technical progress in general and especially in university hospitals. Here, too, the public rarely perceives the healthcare system as a sui generis branch of industry; yet the healthcare industry is an indispensable prerequisite for the provision of healthcare to the population.
The benefits of the above-mentioned and other treatments result from the products and services of the health economy, which must be available millions of times in terms of type and scope. Thus, the health care of the population and its health assistance belong inseparably together with the health economy. Supporting everyday competence combined with the skills and abilities of older people, i.e., successful aging, remains an ongoing challenge in aging societies. New ways in the health economy contribute significantly to this and are still underestimated in their importance for the health care of the aging population.