The experience of low- and middle-income countries (LMC) with respect to regulation and legislation in the health sector is in marked contrast to that of Canada and Europe. It is suggested that the degree to which regulatory mechanisms can influence private sector activity in LMC is quite low. However, there has been little work done on exploring just how, and to what extent, these regulations fail. Through the use of stakeholder interviews, this study explored the effectiveness of regulations directed at the private-for-profit sector general practitioners, private clinics and hospitals) in Zimbabwe. The study found that there was limited and asymmetric knowledge of basic regulations among government bodies and private providers. However, there was a clear feeling that regulations are not being implemented and enforced effectively. A variety of opportunistic practices have been observed among private providers, including: practices of self-referral, where patients are sent to other services the provider has a financial interest in; over-servicing; doctor-patient collusion to collect health insurance payments; and the use of unlicensed staff in private facilities. Key factors limiting effectiveness of regulation in the health sector include the over-centralization and lack of independence of the regulatory body, the absence of legal mechanisms to control the price of care, and the lack of knowledge by patients of their rights. The study also identified a number of potential strategies for improving the current regulatory environment. For example, in order to improve monitoring, \"Informal\" arrangements between the centralized regulatory body and local authorities developed. There is a need to develop ways to formalize the role of these authorities. In addition, professional associations of private providers are also identified as key players through which to improve the impact of regulation among private providers. Increasing consumer access to information and knowledge is another potential way to improve information within the regulatory process as well as implementation.
Health Policy and Planning (2000) 15 (4) 368-377 [doi:10.1093/heapol/15.4.368]