Best Health Care in the World

Here’s a must-read editorial in today’s New York Times. Just skip over the obligatory “yes, but …” swipe at Michael Moore.

Seven years ago, the World Health Organization made the first major effort to rank the health systems of 191 nations. France and Italy took the top two spots; the United States was a dismal 37th. More recently, the highly regarded Commonwealth Fund has pioneered in comparing the United States with other advanced nations through surveys of patients and doctors and analysis of other data. Its latest report, issued in May, ranked the United States last or next-to-last compared with five other nations — Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand and the United Kingdom — on most measures of performance, including quality of care and access to it. Other comparative studies also put the United States in a relatively bad light.

Here they are:

Insurance coverage
. 45 million without. Coverage unreliable. You know this one.


Americans typically get prompter attention, although Germany does better. The real barriers here are the costs facing low-income people without insurance or with skimpy coverage. But even Americans with above-average incomes find it more difficult than their counterparts abroad to get care on nights or weekends without going to an emergency room, and many report having to wait six days or more for an appointment with their own doctors.

Fairness. “The United States ranks dead last on almost all measures of equity because we have the greatest disparity in the quality of care given to richer and poorer citizens.”

Healthy lives. You already know about our shamefully high infant mortality rates. But we also “rank near the bottom in healthy life expectancy at age 60, and 15th among 19 countries in deaths from a wide range of illnesses that would not have been fatal if treated with timely and effective care.”

Quality. Under some circumstances the quality of care here is outstanding. However, we do a substandard job of managing chronic illness. Also, “American doctors and hospitals kill patients through surgical and medical mistakes more often than their counterparts in other industrialized nations.”

Life and death. For some reason, compared to other nations we have excellent survival rates for some diseases and really bad survival rates for other diseases.

Patient satisfaction. Um, we aren’t satisfied.

Use of information technology. “American primary care doctors lag years behind doctors in other advanced nations in adopting electronic medical records or prescribing medications electronically.”

See also “France’s Model Health Care System.”

The Right keeps chirping that “we have the best health care system in the world,” and we plainly don’t. It’s important for Americans to learn the truth, but as long as so many of us don’t travel and get their news from corporatist media, that’s going to be hard. So do your best to talk about this to any friends and family who will listen.

4 thoughts on “Best Health Care in the World

  1. I just saw SiCKO yesterday evening. It was a moving experience, swinging back and forth from laughter to tears. From a cinematic point of view, it wasn’t the best documentary I’ve ever seen, but the strength of the message made it certainly an absolute must see.

    As someone who has had some severe medical problems in the past few years, I can guarantee you that I thank my lucky stars every day that I live in Canada. By the same token, given my medical history, travel insurance is probably useless to me (read: pre-existing conditions). I am seriously wondering whether it is safe for me to ever visit the States again.

  2. American doctors and hospitals kill patients through surgical and medical mistakes more often than their counterparts in other industrialized nations.

    We’re #1! We’re #1! We’re # . . . er, wait . . . never mind.

  3. I just read the NYT editorial. I am amazed at the quality I received in rural southern Illinois. I moved from there last fall but back in ’89 or so we started with an M.D. who was just out of residency and had affiliated with an older doctor. Eventually those two affiliated with several other Drs. to eventually have 8 – 10 physicians working out of the same large office. Somewhere around 3 – 4 years ago they hired a retired nurse to supervise the transcription of paper records to digital format. Then when the nurse took BP, pulse & temp she would enter it into her little sub-notebook computer she carried w/ her. The Doc would the access the patient’s file whe he came in.

    here in western Ohio, just north of Dayton, our new family physician seems like a great diagnostician, but w/ a 2 person office the are not as advanced as the rural so. Illinois group was. It may take over a week to get a routine app’t for a sore throat.

    I really would like for the Dem candidates to hammer away on the need for health care.

  4. Pingback: The Greatest Country in the World at Progressive Cleveland

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