U.S. still flunks healthcare test, group says

WASHINGTON Thu Jul 17, 2008 10:31am EDT

Two maps of the U.S. comparing the percentage of adults aged 18-64 who have health insurance by state. REUTERS/Commonwealth Fund/Handout

Two maps of the U.S. comparing the percentage of adults aged 18-64 who have health insurance by state.

Credit: Reuters/Commonwealth Fund/Handout

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States fails on most measures of health care quality, with Americans waiting longer to see doctors and more likely to die of preventable or treatable illnesses than people in other industrialized countries, a report released on Thursday said.

Americans squander money on wasteful administrative costs, illnesses caused by medical error and inefficient use of time, the report from the nonprofit Commonwealth Fund concluded.

"We lead the world in spending. We should be expecting much more in return," Commonwealth Fund senior vice president Cathy Schoen told reporters.

The Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation, created a 100-point scorecard using 37 indicators such as health outcomes, quality, access and efficiency.

They compare the U.S. average on these to the best performing states, counties or hospitals, and to other countries. The United States scored 65 -- two points lower than in 2006.

One key measure is prevention of premature deaths from easily treated conditions such as asthma and heart attacks.

The United States fell from 15th to last among 19 industrialized nations on this measure from 2006 to 2008. The report estimated the U.S. health care system could save 100,000 lives if it matched Japan or France, the top performers.

Infant mortality remains high in the United States, with a rate of 7 infant deaths per 1,000 live births, compared to 2.8 per 1,000 in Japan and 3.1 in Sweden.

WASTEFUL CARE

Efficiency received a score of 53 "in part because of widespread delivery of inappropriate and wasteful care throughout the United States, including potentially avoidable hospital admissions, minimal use of information technology, and high insurance administrative costs," the report added.

The United States spent 7.5 percent of national health expenditures on insurance administration in 2005, compared to 6.9 percent in France, the next highest spending nation, 2.3 percent in Japan and 1.9 percent in Finland.

While 98 percent of doctors in the Netherlands and 89 percent in Britain use electronic medical records, only 28 percent do in the United States.

Some 47 million Americans have no health insurance and another 28 million are underinsured.

On the plus side, control of high blood pressure increased from 31 percent in 2000 to 41 percent of patients in 2004.

The researchers, who used data and recommendations from the Institute of Medicine, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and elsewhere, said U.S. adults are significantly less likely than patients in five other countries surveyed to get an appointment with a doctor the same or the next day. (Editing by Akan Elsner)

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