Saying It Don’t Make It So

Many Americans are frustrated by the our health care system but quickly declare it to be the best in the world. 

A new study challenges that belief, pointing out that "the U.S. spends twice per capita what other major industrialized countries spend on health care, and costs continue to rise faster than income" and yet "the U.S. achieves an overall score of 65 out of a possible 100 when comparing national averages with U.S. and international performance benchmarks."

This is  an excerpt from the executive summary of the report in the issue of quality:

 Effective care: Control of diabetes and high blood pressure improved markedly from 1999–2000 to 2003–2004 for adults, according to physical exams conducted on a nationally representative sample. Among adults with diabetes, rates of at least fair control of blood sugar increased from 79 percent to 88 percent from 1999–2000 to 2003–2004. Among adults with hypertension, rates of control of high blood pressure increased from 31 percent to 41 percent over the same time period. Yet, a 30 to 60 percentage point difference remains between top- and bottom performing health plans. Hospitals’ adherence to treatment standards for heart attack, heart failure, and pneumonia also improved from 2004 to 2006, but with a persistent gap between leading and lagging hospital groups. Delivery rates for basic preventive care failed to improve: as of 2005, only half of adults received all recommended preventive care.
Coordinated care: Heart failure patients were more likely to receive hospital discharge instructions in 2006 (68%) than in 2004 (50%), but rates varied widely between top and bottom hospital groups (from 94% to 36%). Hospitalizations increased among nursing home residents from 2000 to 2004, as did rehospitalizations for patients discharged to skilled nursing facilities—signaling a need to improve long-term care and transitions between health care providers.

Safe care: One key indicator of patient safety—hospital standardized mortality ratios—improved significantly since the first Scorecard, with a 19 percent decline. Safety risks, however, remain high as one-third of adults with health problems reported mistakes in their care in 2007. Drug safety is of particular concern. Rates of visits to physicians or emergency departments for adverse drug effects increased by one-third between 2001 and 2004.

Patient-centered, timely care: In 2007, as in 2005, less than half of U.S. adults with health problems were able to get a rapid appointment with a physician when they were sick. They also were the most likely among adults in seven countries surveyed to report difficulty obtaining health care after hours without going to the emergency department, and this rate increased from 61 percent to 73 percent since 2005. Within the U.S., there is wide variation among hospitals in terms of patient reports of how well staff responded to their needs.

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