Recent Comparative Studies of Health Systems
As America continues to wrestle with the thorny thicket of health care reform, there are a number of recent reports chronicling and comparing approaches to health care and health reform in different countries that are worth a read. For example:
- The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development recently released Health at a Glance 2011: OECD Indicators, which provides “comparable data on different aspects of the performance of health systems in OECD countries.” The U.S. spends 2 ½ times more than the OECD average health expenditure per capita (which amounted to 17.4% of GDP in 2009). (OECD explores why in a separate addendum, “Why is Health Spending in the United States So High”.) Yet, with the exception of cancer care and acute care in hospitals, it is not clear Americans are getting improved quality for the greater expenditures. As reported by CQ HealthBeat and by the Commonwealth Fund, “hospital services cost much more in the United States and pharmaceutical prices are much higher compared to other countries;” “there are fewer practicing physicians per 1,000 population, fewer doctor consultations and shorter hospital stays;” “more CT scans, knee replacements, and Caesarean sections;” and “comparatively high hospital admission rates for preventable conditions like asthma, diabetes and hypertension.”
- Strengthening Primary Care: Recent Reforms and Achievements in Australia, England, and the Netherlands, a recent report by Sharon Willcox, Geraint Lewis, and Jako Burgers of the Commonwealth Fund, evaluates efforts to improve access to, and the quality of, primary care in these countries– and suggests what the U.S. can learn from these initiatives. These countries have been focusing on three primary care reform strategies: promoting coordination of care, reforming primary care payment, and improving quality and access. As the abstract summarizes, “[q]uality improvement strategies include postgraduate training programs for family physicians, accreditation of general practitioner (GP) practices, and efforts to modify professional behaviors–for example, through clinical guideline development. Strategies for improving access include national performance targets, greater use of practice nurses, assured after-hours care, and medical advice telephone lines. All three countries have established midlevel primary care organizations both to coordinate primary care health services and to serve other functions, such as purchasing and population health planning. Better coordination of primary health care services is also the objective driving the use of patient enrollment in a single general practice. Payment reform is also a key element of English and Australian reforms, with both countries having introduced payment-for-quality initiatives. Dutch payment reform has stressed financial incentives for better management of chronic disease.”
- Bradford H. Gray, Thomas Bowden, Ib Johansen, and Sabine Koch, also of the Commonwealth Fund, review the extent of adoption of “meaningful use” (as defined in federal regulations) in three countries with extensive experience with electronic health records, Denmark, New Zealand, and Sweden in Electronic Health Records: An International Perspective on “Meaningful Use.” Although these European countries have high levels of EHR adoption, they have not reached 100% meaningful use, with the greatest weakness being in information provided to patients. The authors suggest that the U.S. could learn from these experiences the value of “providing economic incentives to encourage adoption and designating an organization to take responsibility for standardization and interoperability.”
- International Profiles of Health Care Systems: Australia, Canada, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States, edited by Sarah Thomson, Robin Osborn, David Squires, and Sarah Jane Reed and published by the Commonwealth Fund, provides an overview of the health systems in these countries– including “health insurance, public and private financing, health system organization, quality of care, health disparities, efficiency and integration, use of health information technology, use of evidence-based practice, cost containment, and recent reforms and innovations.”
- The Commonwealth Fund also recently released results of an international study of patients with complex care needs in eleven countries: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the U.S. Although it identified significant care coordination issues, it found that “patients who have a medical home reported better coordination of care, fewer medical errors, and greater satisfaction with care than those without one.” In addition, the study also found “that patients in the United States are much more likely than those in 10 other high-income countries to forgo needed care because of costs and to struggle with medical debt.” 27% “were unable to pay or encountered serious problems paying medical bills in the past year, compared with between 1 percent and 14 percent of adults in the other countries,” and 42% did not see a doctor, fill a prescription, or receive recommended care. The authors conclude that “[t]he United States in particular has opportunities to learn from abroad-including the use of purchasing power to lower prices, payment innovations, and the use of information systems and care system redesign efforts that are under way in several countries.”
Of course, there are a variety of reasons the experiences in other countries may not take root in the United States. But we still should be aware of these efforts and critically evaluate whether we might transplant any of them as seeds of reform here.