We frequently hear that the United States health care system is "the best" in the world. It's hard to judge unless we know what standards are being used to determine what's bad, what's good, what's better, and what's best. Let's suppose the standards are related to medical technology and innovation. In that case, we certainly could consider ourselves best. We have outstanding technology and rapidly develop new medications and innovative techniques and products. Everyone knows someone with a new knee, a stent in their heart, or someone who is taking a new medication to help control high blood pressure.
But what if we use standards that compare how well we prevent illness and death?
On September 23, The Commonwealth Fund publicized a new study showing that the United States ranked last among the 16 high-income nations when it comes to preventing unnecessary deaths through timely access to effective health care. Unnecessary deaths include childhood infections, treatable cancers, diabetes, stroke and high blood pressure, and complications of common surgical procedures. When the U.S. figures were compared with France, Australia, and Italy, the three best-performing countries (there's that tricky word "best" again), the researchers found that 84,300 deaths in the United States could have been prevented in 2006 - 2007. That's a number equal to the populations of the cities of Lewiston, Bangor, and Waterville combined.
Perhaps it is time for us to have some real conversations about what we want from our health care system and agree on what we mean by "best."
We have an opportunity here in Maine to do just that. From November 7 to 11, author T.R. Reid will discuss his book, The Healing of America, in communities throughout the state. His book describes the health care systems in several other countries including Canada, England, Japan and France and gives examples of what we can learn from each. MeHAF is helping to sponsor his visit to foster state-level and local discussion about our health care system, what it could be and how it truly can be the best.
What's your view of our health care system? Do you think we have the "best?" What standards should we use to define "best?" Let us know what you think. And join us and many others in Maine for the conversations in November with T.R. Reid to share your thoughts.
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