[B-SIDE Podcast] The private sector’s role in public health

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Companies might be spending on the wrong things when it comes to employee health. “We found that businesses were losing P100 billion annually due to poor employee health. That’s in spite of companies already spending roughly P150 billion taking care of their employees,” said Santiago J. Arnaiz, co-founder and chief operating officer of Project Fort, a health data consultancy.

In this B-Side episode, Mr. Arnaiz (formerly of BusinessWorld) and Project Fort co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Erika M. Modina tell BusinessWorld reporter Patricia B. Mirasol how the private sector can contribute to public health with the help of data. “If [companies] are given the right tools to collect data, then they can make evidence-based health strategies that save money and engage employees,” said Ms. Modina. “This is the perfect time to rebuild the health system because people understand its importance.”

TAKEAWAYS

A data-driven culture situates a company for success.

Having the infrastructure to analyze health data — and how it affects the bottomline — serves a firm well as it digitally transforms its other areas of business.

“There is a clear incentive to invest in data infrastructure for employee health,” said Mr. Arnaiz. A data-driven community, he said, is one where the data infrastructure penetrates all levels of the corporation and everyone is unified in the mission of health.

“This infrastructure becomes your jumping point for creating a data-driven culture,” he added, “and that’s priceless when it comes to situating yourself for success as a company.”

Companies spend money on the wrong things.

From the policies they enact to the resources they provide, companies control many factors in the day-to-day lives of their staff.

“The social networks that people belong to affect their health,” said Ms. Modina. “One of those social networks is a person’s working conditions.”

The workplace presents a prime opportunity to create a healthier Philippines, and yet employers do not spend their money right when it comes to employee health.

“In our research in Project Fort, we found that businesses were losing P100 billion annually due to poor employee health,” said Mr. Arnaiz. “That’s in spite of companies already spending roughly P150 billion taking care of their employees.”

Proper insights into employee care, Mr. Arnaiz added, are available through health-tech solutions. MSMEs (micro, small, and medium enterprises) with limited resources can likewise build a robust data infrastructure by prioritizing their needs first, and then finding a firm that understands their desired outcome.

There are roadblocks in translating data insights into meaningful policies.

“One problem is that people aren’t collecting data,” said Ms. Modina, who is also president of EpiMetrics, a research institution advancing health equity through the conception, translation, and communication of health systems and policy research. “Another problem is that they may be collecting data, but don’t know how to make sense of it.”

Making sense of, and collecting insights from, data means that data collection should have an aim from the very start. For companies, this means knowing their employees, having a baseline on their health, and realizing there are so many factors that come into play beyond a person’s individual choice.

“If companies have health champions, and if they’re given the right tools to collect data, then they could make evidence-based health strategies that save money and engage employees,” she said.

The pandemic is an opportunity to rebuild the health system.

“We have to do an analysis of what we already have and where we’re situated,” said Ms. Modina, adding that this covers human resources, medical supplies, technologies, information systems, service delivery networks, finance, and governance.

“We can’t solve what we don’t know.” The data that is now being collected on COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths, she said, can be expanded in the future to determine free bed space in a hospital, or that quantity of available medicines in a pharmacy.

Determining all the factors that make up these building blocks gives a clearer picture on how partnerships between the public and private sectors can happen.

“This is the perfect time to rebuild the health system because people understand its importance,” said Ms. Modina.

Recorded remotely on May 5. Produced by Paolo L. Lopez, and Sam L. Marcelo.

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