Another set of factors that has contributed to the rise of health psychology relates to the expansion of health care services. Health care is the largest service industry in the United States, and it is still growing rapidly. Americans spend more than $1,000 billion annually on health more than 14 % of their total income. In recent years, the health care industry has come under increasing scrutiny as we have realized that massive increases in health care costs have not brought with them improvement in basic indicators of quality of health.
Moreover, huge disparities exist in the United States, such that some individuals enjoy the very best health care available in the world and others receive little health care except in emergencies. As of 1994, 37 million Americans had no health insurance at all, placing basic preventive care and treatment for common illnesses out of financial reach. These are among the developments that have fueled recent efforts to reform the health care system to provide all Americans with a basic health care package similar to what already exists in most European countries.
Health psychology represents an important perspective on these issues for several reasons. First, because cost containment is so important, health psychology’s main emphasis on prevention namely, modifying people risky health behaviors before they ever become ill has the potential to reduce the number of dollars devoted to the management of illness. Second, health psychologists have done substantial research on what makes people satisfied or dissatisfied with their health care. Thus, they can help in the design of user-friendly health care systems.
Finally, the health care industry employs many millions of individuals in a variety of jobs. Nearly every individual in the country has direct contact with the health care system as a recipient of services. Thus, its impact on people is enormous. For all these reasons, then, health has a substantial social and psychological impact on people, an impact that is addressed by health psychologists.