Health services are the medical and public health practices, procedures, and systems that prevent disease, diagnose illness, mitigate pain and suffering, and provide cures for people. Several different academic and professional disciplines contribute to this broad field of study. The field of health services research investigates the access to, use, costs, quality, and delivery of healthcare services. It also explores how they affect the health of patients and communities.
Health systems are organizations established to meet specific health needs in a targeted population. They provide financing mechanisms, a skilled and adequately paid workforce, reliable information on which to base decisions and policies, and well-maintained health facilities. They may be organized in a variety of ways, including integrated healthcare systems centered on large hospitals and encompassing primary care and specialist physicians, and community health centers that offer same-day appointments or services on a walk-in basis.
The health services industry encompasses a wide range of fields, including medicine, nursing, midwifery, dentistry, pharmacy, optometry, and psychology. It also includes activities performed by allied health professionals, such as physical therapy, athletic training and kinesiology. The International Standard Industrial Classification system identifies health services as a sector of the economy, and it includes healthcare activities that are conducted in hospitals, doctors’ offices, ambulatory healthcare facilities, laboratory analysis, residential health facilities and patient advocacy.
There are a number of competing theories concerning the purpose and nature of health services. One view holds that the primary role of health services is to protect and promote human life, and this responsibility extends to all members of society. Another view holds that the goal of health services is to relieve human suffering and to restore physical, mental and emotional functioning. This is often referred to as the “dignity” approach.
Some healthcare workers hold that the allocation of resources in a health service should be dictated by ethical considerations. For example, the theory of utilitarianism suggests that it is morally right to maximize the benefit per unit cost for the greatest number of people. Other theories, such as deontology, take a more holistic view of the purpose and nature of healthcare.
There are concerns that the ethical and philosophical frameworks for the allocation of healthcare resources can lead to unintended consequences. For example, there is a concern that resources are being allocated to past and present people who won’t benefit from the allocation, or that healthcare funding is being diverted from areas where it could be more beneficial. In addition, there are a number of ethical issues regarding future generations that can arise in discussions about distributive justice and healthcare.