Stefan Spycher attending the second meeting of the Sciana 2018 cohort (Photo: Katrin Kerschbaumer)

The Importance of Health Policy in An Uncertain World

Ahead of transitioning into a new role, Sciana member Stefan Spycher reflects on important lessons from his career

Given the world's current circumstances, health policy is perhaps a more pressing issue now than ever before. Defined by the World Health Organization as "decisions, plans, and actions that are undertaken to achieve specific health care goals within a society," health policy is crucial to ensuring healthy people – and healthy societies.

For the past 12 years, Stefan Spycher has worked in the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) in Switzerland, where he serves as the head of the health policy directorate. His work focuses on six general topics: health policy strategy, regulation of the health workforce, enhancing healthcare providing systems, healthcare legislation, strengthening citizen involvement in healthcare, and serving as Switzerland's delegates to the OECD in Paris.

Since 2018, he has also been a member of Sciana: The Health Leaders Network, an initiative bringing together outstanding leaders in health and health care policy and innovation across Europe. The Sciana network is supported by a partnership between the Health Foundation (UK), Careum Stiftung (Switzerland), and the Robert Bosch Stiftung (Germany) in collaboration with Salzburg Global Seminar.

His work with the FOPH and Sciana has taught him several crucial lessons, the first being the importance of creativity and thinking outside the box. He says, "[In] a federal office, you have a lot of to do, which is… mandatory. And in a foundation [like Careum], you have to be creative [and] innovative if you also have your own goals [to] can put forward."

His work has also taught him the importance of including the general public in health care. "[In Switzerland,] we have direct democracy, meaning that even on the very local level, you must convince people so that they vote for a hospital, for an outpatient center, and so on. It's very little top-down and very much bottom-up in our country. And when you are working on the national level… you must have convincing ideas, but also [people] must be convinced."

Finally, he's learned the importance of action and how organizations need more than brainstorming to realize goals. He says, "When I started [at the Federal Office of Public Health], I had the opinion that when you are reforming health policy, you must have the right ideas, good ideas. And after 12 years, I think I can say it's only about 10 percent of the success when you have good ideas, and the other 90 percent is about realizing good ideas."

He will take these lessons forward into his new role this fall. Spycher was recently appointed chief executive officer of Careum Stiftung and will begin his term in October 2020.

According to its website, Careum "sees itself as an organization that promotes dialogue between those involved in healthcare." Spycher spoke about the importance of open dialogue in health care, particularly in light of the current global situation. Not every citizen may be directly involved in health care. Still, as Spycher says, everyone who participates in a healthcare-related discussion is an expert on themselves, and for this reason, an open and transparent dialogue is crucial.

Despite the global circumstances surrounding his transition into a new role, Spycher is already looking forward to joining Careum.

"I'm really personally honored that a famous foundation [like] Careum has chosen me as a CEO. And it's this moment of starting something new, to meet new people and to collaborate for a more innovative health care system, for a fairer and for a more equitable health care system [that] is very strong to my heart. And so it's really this kind of position that you can make a difference and really have an added value… And I'm really passionate about this new role."

By:Mira Merchant