We’re all beholden to the U.S. healthcare system. We depend on it to keep us well, and we need it in times of illness or injury. Our lives depend on it.
In some ways, the U.S. healthcare system is the best in the world. In other ways such as the cost of treatments and accessibility to medicines, it could be better. And in yet other ways, including needless injuries and accidents, it fails the people who depend on it most.
Let’s examine the U.S. healthcare system in terms of cost, accessibility to patients, and health outcomes, as well as ways that it fails us. Additionally, what changes can we expect to future healthcare that will put us more in charge of our own bodies?
The United States has the highest healthcare costs in the world. When compared to the costs of seven other industrialized nations, there really is no comparison. In the U.S., one can expect to pay over $29,000 for a hip replacement. This is $10,000 more than the country that came in second-highest, Australia.
In fact, the cost of healthcare is so exorbitant that some patients choose to travel to other countries such as Mexico for their medical care. This is referred to as medical tourism. Simply put, it is less expensive to travel south into Mexico than to pay the medical costs here.
Steps have been made to fix this problem in some cases. For those on Medicare, they can get a Medigap policy. A Medigap policy helps cover the costs that Medicare doesn’t cover including copayments. That doesn’t help the over 27 million Americans who do not have health insurance, however, many of whom do not qualify for medical assistance and cannot afford private health insurance. The current healthcare system excludes too many people from the healthcare that they need.
In contrast to the high cost of healthcare, accessibility has gotten much better. Many have experienced trying to make a medical appointment to discover that the next appointment is a month away, or having to travel miles to see the doctor for ten minutes. That was before telemedicine, which has spread to even the unlikeliest of practices such as optometry.
Telemedicine allows a patient to see a doctor remotely without going to the office. With telemedicine, a patient can consult a doctor, upload self-taken medical images, and even have an online exam. This saves the patient time and tends to be less expensive. Additionally, 80% of patients said that the quality of care received through telemedicine was as good or better as an in-person visit.
Accessibility to medicine in our healthcare system remains an area of contention, however. One example is medical marijuana. There are many health benefits to medical marijuana. It helps with epilepsy, reduces the nausea of chemotherapy, and alleviates muscle spasms, but it is rarely covered by health insurance. Why? Medical marijuana has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). For that same reason, Medicaid and Medicare do not cover it. This is a travesty to those with chronic conditions who could benefit from the drug.
Although Americans pay more for health care compared to other countries, our health outcomes are ranked lower than most. In a comparison of health outcomes of the United States and 10 other wealthy countries, here is how we ranked:
- The life expectancy in the U.S. is the lowest at 78.6 years, 5 years lower than Switzerland, the country with the highest life expectancy.
- Over 25% of Americans said they have two or more chronic health issues, more than any other country.
- The U.S. has the highest amount of hospitalizations for conditions considered preventable such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
- The U.S. has more deaths from avoidable conditions than any other country, with rates more than double that of several countries.
And not only does the U.S. have low health outcomes in many areas, but there are also other causes for concern:
- Every day, over 1,000 patients die due to a hospital error.
- 4 of every 100 patients get a preventable infection.
- Medicare patients admitted to the hospital have a 25% chance of being injured or dying.
Action needs to be taken to protect patients from being needlessly hurt or dying when they are hospitalized and depending on our healthcare system the most. There are changes to our healthcare system coming down the pike that may help reduce these statistics.
Changes Down the Pike?
Digital health care records mean that a patient can have more control over his or her healthcare. With healthcare becoming more of a free-market enterprise, a patient would be able to get his healthcare where he deems the best value and care to be. This will be a revolutionary change to healthcare because it is a “radical reorientation” to how healthcare is now being run. Should this happen, healthcare would change for the better as providers compete for the business of patients. Government regulations on the healthcare industry would need to loosen up for this to happen, but it would be a thrilling time for patients seeking quality and preventative care.
To reduce the price in this type of market, price transparency would be necessary. Transparency would force prices down while not jeopardizing the quality of care provided.
The health care record market would also allow consumers to seek highly individualized care from both pharmaceutical companies and providers. No longer would a patient be treated like everyone else. They would be in charge of their care and could demand treatment that is specifically for them. These changes would allow patients more freedom than ever before.
The U.S. healthcare system has its benefits, but it is also filled with flaws that put patients’ lives at risk. Accessing quality healthcare has become easier but too many people go without health insurance, and patient outlooks are not what you’d expect. Too many errors and accidents endanger the lives of patients in hospitals. Thanks to electronic healthcare records, however, changes may be on the way. Only time will tell how these changes manifest and benefit the patient.
Author information: Magnolia Potter is a muggle from the Pacific Northwest who writes from time to time and covers a variety of topics. When Magnolia’s not writing, you can find her curled up with a good book.