Broad Indicators Should Be Used Less When Comparing Health Systems

National health systems are frequently compared using economic and public health indicators like healthcare expenditure as a percentage of GDP and lifespan that are not specific to the performance of each health system. Comparisons including lifespan elevate countries like Japan and lower countries like the United States while Japan’s success could easily be attributed more to lifestyle than their fractured health system. This is not to say that comparisons including broad indicators mean nothing. The United States spends an alarming amount of money on healthcare. These comparisons are useful to highlight our excesses but should not necessarily be used to suggest policy based upon other countries.

Ultimately, no health system is perfect. The financial crisis of 2008 strained funding for health systems across the world. It’s naive to suggest that other models would completely fix our funding problems. Health systems should be unique to each country and reflect the desires of the citizens of each country. At some point, decisions about healthcare become less about practicality and more about philosophy.

Predictably, philosophical arguments about access and economics dominate criticisms of our health system. These arguments are necessary but tend to bury, at least outside of circles of healthcare providers, problems that we should find equally compelling. Latest available FDA Adverse Event Reporting System data lists 54,783 deaths due to adverse events through Q2 2012. Adverse drug events that are preventable and not preventable can be handled more effectively. These are the types of figures that should receive publicity, not figures that healthcare providers can’t influence directly.

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