How Good Is Our Health Care System?

Jim Barfield - president, CEO and co-owner of Luke & AssociatesLast April, I received an up-close-and- personal look at our local health care system. While traveling in Texas, I became ill with what turned out to be pneumonia. After making it back home to Brevard County, I received a diagnosis and treatment with antibiotics. My doctor warned me that recovery from pneumonia requires rest, and that not following these orders could result in a much worse outcome. Although I am not one to sit idle, I followed my doctor’s orders. Pneumonia put me out of commission for two weeks, but I have recovered completely with no lingering issues.

Pneumonia has been a common disease throughout history and was once one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. and the world. With the advent of antibiotics and vaccines in the 20th century, we now have a very high survival rate. However, in developing countries, and among the very old, the very young and the chronically ill, pneumonia remains a leading cause of death.

Needless to say, I am thankful for the health care I received. But, just how good is health care in the U.S.?

In his book, “The Future of Health-Care Delivery: Why it Must Change and How it Will Affect You,” Dr. Stephen Schimpff says that the U.S. has a superior medical care system. He points to our superb medical schools, excellent hospital training programs, large numbers of nurses and pharmacists, the world’s largest biomedical research and the hub for pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries to support this point.

He also says that despite these advantages, our overall health is not the best by far. For example, our infant mortality is higher and our life spans are shorter than they are in many other developed countries. Dr. Schimpff’s reasoning is that we focus on medical care for disease and injury, but put less emphasis on other factors that impact health such as genetics, social circumstances, environmental exposures and behavioral patterns.

The single greatest opportunity to improve health and reduce premature deaths is to address our personal behaviors. An article published in the New England Journal of Medicine (2007) explains that nearly 40 percent of all deaths in the U.S. are a result of our behaviors, such as smoking, which accounts for 465,000 annual deaths.

The majority of diseases today are chronic and not acute, and according to research by The Milken Institute, primarily consist of cancer, diabetes, hypertension, stroke, heart disease, pulmonary conditions and mental disorders. In the U.S., more than 109 million people report having at least one of the seven diseases. The total impact on the economy is $1.3 trillion annually. Dr. Schimpff believes that each of these diseases has been linked to behavioral and/or environmental risk factors that prevention programs could address.

So while there should be a shift toward prevention of chronic illnesses, our current health care delivery is showing improvements with better collaboration between providers with the onset of electronic health records and an overall awareness of health issues.

The number of primary care providers entering the medical field is a problem, however, and there needs to be incentives to correct this problem. Overall, our health care delivery system could be better, and it will continue to get better as the needs change.

But, would you rather receive medical treatment in another country or in the U.S.? As for me, I would take medical care in the U.S. over medical care anywhere else in the world.

Jim Barfield is the president, CEO and co-owner of Luke & Associates, Inc. on Merritt Island. His company, founded in 2004, is a major provider of medical and clinical support services for the military. In addition, Luke provides advisory and assistance services in the fields of engineering, research, information systems and medical systems.

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