Thursday, March 26, 2009

America Has a Sick Care Not a Health Care System

We Americans like to pride ourselves as having the best healthcare system the world but unfortunately that is not the case. We have a medical care system, not a healthcare system. We give lip service to prevention and spend only about 3% of our $2 trillion in medical expenditures on public health. By many measures we do not rate favorably compared to many of the other industrialized societies. As citizens we have behaviors that are driving more and more illness, illnesses that at chronic, complex, lifelong and life shortening. That $2 trillion is by far more than other nations spend per capita and it is seriously and adversely affecting businesses, government and each of us. Meanwhile, we may be pleased with our doctor but not the delivery system as a whole. Quality is subpar, preventable errors are rampant and some 47 million of us are without insurance access to medical care – the only such industrialized country. Health care reform is now a topic of great interest but politicians and media focus on the access issues predominantly, cost issues somewhat and the quality, safety and prevention/ public health needs only rarely.
Let’s take a closer look at what we have today. The current system of care focuses on “disease and pestilence.” It is a disease oriented system and certainly not a health management system nor a patient-oriented system. Mostly, this is due to a reimbursement methodology that under-rates the generalists and tilts toward those that do procedures. That is not what we need; what we need is a payment system that rewards the generalist for working in rural or socio-economically deprived areas, for taking the time to listen to the patient, for being attuned to prevention and wellness management. Today, that is just not where we are in America. So we need a change to a system that is focused on disease prevention, health promotion and with ready access to primary care and providers. Then, when necessary, access to specialists, hospitals, rehabilitation and all of the other requirements for good medical care when disease or injury does occur.

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Praise for Dr Schimpff

The craft of science writing requires skills that are arguably the most underestimated and misunderstood in the media world. Dumbing down all too often gets mistaken for clarity. Showmanship frequently masks a poor presentation of scientific issues. Factoids are paraded in lieu of ideas. Answers are marketed at the expense of searching questions. By contrast, Steve Schimpff provides a fine combination of enlightenment and reading satisfaction. As a medical scientist he brings his readers encyclopedic knowledge of his subject. As a teacher and as a medical ambassador to other disciplines he's learned how to explain medical breakthroughs without unnecessary jargon. As an advisor to policymakers he's acquired the knack of cutting directly to the practical effects, showing how advances in medical science affect the big lifestyle and economic questions that concern us all. But Schimpff's greatest strength as a writer is that he's a physician through and through, caring above all for the person. His engaging conversational style, insights and fascinating treasury of cutting-edge information leave both lay readers and medical professionals turning his pages. In his hands the impact of new medical technologies and discoveries becomes an engrossing story about what lies ahead for us in the 21st century: as healthy people, as patients of all ages, as children, as parents, as taxpayers, as both consumers and providers of health services. There can be few greater stories than the adventure of what awaits our minds, bodies, budgets, lifespans and societies as new technologies change our world. Schimpff tells it with passion, vision, sweep, intelligence and an urgency that none of us can ignore.

-- N.J. Slabbert, science writer, co-author of Innovation, The Key to Prosperity: Technology & America's Role in the 21st Century Global Economy (with Aris Melissaratos, director of technology enterprise at the John Hopkins University).