A 2005 international survey posed important questions to people in six different countries in order to gauge the current state of medical care in advanced industrialized nations.
The Commonwealth Fund surveyed adults in the U.S., Canada, Australia, Germany, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. The interviewees were people who had recently been in the hospital, had surgery, or who had reported health problems that required intensive medical care in the past two years.
The goal was to look at the performance of each country’s medical system from the point of view of the patient, specifically looking at safety, coordination, access, and chronic disease management.
How did the U.S. do? Well, although there was no clear “winner” amongst the six countries, the American system was definitely nowhere near the top of the list. However, every country came up short, with problems in safety, poor care coordination, inefficient doctor-patient communication, and inadequate care for sufferers of chronic conditions.
Overall, most of the people interviewed in all countries felt that there was a need for major changes in each country’s respective health system. The percentages of interviewees feeling that their country’s health system needed a major overhaul are as follows: Germany, 85%; Canada, 78%; U.S., 74%; Australia, 74%; New Zealand, 72%; and the U.K., 66%.
The U.S. health system showed the most need for improvement when it came to medical mistakes. More than a third of the interviewees experienced medical treatment mistakes, such as being given an incorrect medication or dosage, or lab errors (including incorrect test results or a delay in receiving abnormal test results). Canada came in second last, with 30%, while the U.K. did the best in this category, coming in at 22%. It’s important to note that most errors did not occur in the hospital.
The U.S. also made a poor showing in the category of coordination, meaning that for 33% of patients, test results or patient records were not available at the time of a doctor appointment or that doctors ordered tests that had already been done. Basically, patients’ time and money were both being wasted, especially for those visiting multiple physicians. By contrast, 19% of Canadian patients experienced the same type of problem.
Finances and other social factors can dictate access to medical care. Shockingly, half of the U.S. respondents reported that due to the costs involved, they did not seek the care of their doctor when ill, did not take the doctor’s advice for treatment, or did not fill a prescription. Even with this high rate of people not getting the care they needed, a third of them spent more than $1,000 of their own money on medical care in the past year.
In addition, patients in Canada and the U.S. were far less likely to get a same-day appointment when they were sick than those individuals in the other countries. In fact, a significant percentage had to wait six days or more for care, thus increasing the number of ER visits for non-emergency events.
All of this doesn’t mean that the North American system is the worst in the world; it just means that change is needed across the board when it comes to medical care. Let’s hope that these types of surveys can spur the government into taking real action on the important topic of effective medical care. After all, what’s more important than our health?