Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Common Misconceptions About Healthcare Reform

American medicine must change - and the change will be both substantial and difficult to achieve but change is critical if we are to have a well functioning healthcare system that affords all of us safe, quality care at a reasonable cost in a customer-focused manner.

Today there are many misconceptions about healthcare reform - misconceptions about who will have access, how much it will cost, who will pay the bills, whether it will benefit those who currently have insurance, whether there will be good preventive care and good coordination of chronic illnesses, whether individuals will still be able to lose their insurance if they change or lose their jobs, whether Medicare benefits will be reduced, whether it will include rationing and whether there will be "death panels." Indeed the misconceptions like these and others are rampant and need to be addressed in a realistic, nonpartisan manner. I propose to explain what must change and why and then to dispel the misconceptions with straight forward factual information so that you can be properly informed. In the process I will explain the need to balance rights such as access with responsibilities such as leading a healthy lifestyle. Beginning with this post, I plan to review the common misconceptions, one or two at a time, entering a new post very few days until completed.

Misconception - America has the best healthcare in the world.
Sorry, but this is just not true. As stated before, we have a medical care system not a healthcare system meaning that we focus on disease and pestilence but not health promotion and disease prevention. We do spend more per capita than any other country but our quality does not measure up to what we spend. We have a higher infant mortality rate [6.9 per 1000 live births] than many countries [e.g., Japan – 2.8, France – 3.9] and our lifespan [77.9 years] has not kept up [Japan – 83, Switzerland – 82]. We have lifesaving vaccines available but they go unused by nearly 20% of infants. We are overweight with only about one-third of us at a healthy weight. About 20% of us still smoke. Regular exams are simply not regular and screenings for preventable or reversible problems like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and cancer are all too often not obtained. In short, the American healthcare system responds, and responds fairly well, to illness and trauma but is not focused on preventive medicine as the numbers above document. Further we do not have coordinated care for those with complex, chronic diseases like heart failure and cancer. These diseases cannot be treated appropriately with our current helter-skelter approach with independent physicians referring to each other as the situation warrants instead of a well-coordinated system for addressing all of the patient’s needs in an organized manner with multidisciplinary teams.

We have incredible resources in people, technology and infrastructure but we do not bring them to bear on the problems of healthcare delivery in an effective manner. This needs to change.

1 comment:

Don said...

Great post but missing one key aspect - a lack of consumer action - what economists call consumer sovereignty, over medical decision making has caused a general malaise and created a "value proposition" problem. We don't get the value implicit in receiving certain health care services - nor understand the opportunity cost in forgoing certain services that aren't value-added. There's no conceivable way to "police" a market with 300 million participants, $2.5 trillion in spending and billions of transactions - we need to enlist and engage consumers.

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).