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How Good Is Our Health Care Anyway?

We often hear the mantra; “The U.S. has the best medical system in the world.” We do have many areas of health care that deserve credit. However, The National Coalition on Health Care, (a non-partisan, non-profit coalition of large and small businesses, consumer, religious and primary care groups, as well as academicians co-chaired by former Presidents Bush and Carter), reports that although the U.S. spends the most money on medical care of industrialized nations, it performs worse than most on many measures of quality.[i] The Coalition web site says:

There are widespread problems with the quality of much of America’s health care. The disparity between the care most Americans receive and the care delivered through what are considered the nation’s best-managed care plans results in nearly 81,000 preventable deaths annually. Billions of dollars in lost productivity and in hospital costs could be averted through more consistent delivery of evidence-based best practices in medical services and administrative practice.[ii]

Considering deaths that could be prevented with proper care, the U.S. is 33 percent worse than the best country. Our infant mortality rate is 300% worse than the top three countries.[iii] Our system is not balanced. Millions are receiving more care than they need, millions are receiving less than they need and worse, millions are receiving the wrong kind of care. Millions are injured and estimates are that 100,000 to 200,000 die annually from medical negligence. This number reflects an amount equaling a jumbo jet crashing every day of the year, killing all aboard. How long would we as Americans allow that kind of plane to fly.

We often hear debated that 47 million Americans are uninsured. What we do not hear debated is how many of those die because they are uninsured and cannot get the health care and treatment they need. Somehow we think that there is always a way to get the surgery or treatment needed, but that is not true. Yes, our system causes bankruptcy, anxiety, financial burden, but it also causes death.

More health care isn’t better health care. Because many specific treatments are known to be beneficial, such as emergency treatment of heart attacks or surgery to replace a failing hip joint, most Americans assume that more medical care in general must also be beneficial. Our research, however, reveals that patients who see more doctors and visit the hospital more often are not more likely to receive better care, have no improvement in survival, and are unlikely to have better quality of life. In fact, more care could be harmful in some cases, as documented in the study.[iv]

What does all of this have to do with lawyers? So often, even in national elections, lawyers and the court system are blamed for rising health care costs. We hear the term “junk medical suits” and “frivolous malpractice suits”, not only from national candidates but also from the President of our United States in his recent State of the Union Address.

Who Is To Blame? (Watch for More)

[i] Seven years ago, the World Health Organization made the first major effort to rank the health system of 191 nations. France and Italy took the top two spots; the United States was 37th.

[ii] National Committee for Quality Assurance. The State of Health Care Quality, 2006 – Industry Trends and Analysis, Washington, DC, 2006.

[iii] The Commonwealth Fund Commission on a High Performance Health System, Why Not the Best? Results from a National Scorecard on U.S. Health System Performance, The Commonwealth Fund, September 2006.

[iv], “Avoiding the Unintended Consequences of Growth in Medical Care: How Might More Be Worse?” Fisher, MD,MPH; Welch, MD, MPH; JAMA, February 3, 1999—Vol 281, No. 5, 446-453

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