With rising demand for health services and growing pressure on public authorities from expanding healthcare expenditure, co-operatives are playing an increasingly important role in the sector.
A new report by the International Health Co-operative Organisation (IHCO) has found that co-operatives have a distinct approach to healthcare provision, which can help develop prevention services and improve wellbeing.
The report looks at healthcare systems in 13 countries, examining challenges and the potential of health co-operatives in addressing these. The research finds that health co-ops tend to fill in gaps left by other providers, rather than compete with them.
Another finding suggests that co-operatives bring benefits due to their participatory nature. They encourage prevention strategies to reduce health risk factors at the local level, and enhance the relational dimension of health services, thus contributing to improving their quality. As member-focused businesses, co-operatives also tend to attract more volunteers, a quality particularly exploited in Italy and Canada. Similarly, in France health mutuals are becoming increasingly relevant in collective care.
IHCO president Carlos Zarco said: “One of the main conclusions of the study is that health co-operatives have great ability to adapt to new socioeconomic contexts, as they have demonstrated over years their suitability when it comes to solving new needs in the health sector. The peculiarities of the health market make non-profit organisations especially efficient in this context. The co-operative is a business model that competes in the market like any other but does not have to pay out returns to shareholders and, therefore, reinvests all its benefits in improving service quality and professionals' working conditions, so ensuring its sustainability.”